The Wednesday meeting of the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education includes two action items on the agenda.
The first is a resolution submitted by board President Kate Noble that, among other things, directs Superintendent Veronica García to provide the board with a process, budget and framework for transparently and inclusively evaluating changes that could be made within the district to equitably apportion resources and ensure access to educational opportunities for all students.
The second action item, submitted by board member Maureen Cashmon and Vice President Lorraine Price, directs Superintendent García to begin planning and implementing the closure of Acequia Madre, E.J. Martinez and Nava elementary schools. The action items and supporting documents can be found on the SFPS website.
It is the board’s responsibility to make policy decisions that can be difficult and unpopular. Given the recent history of budget shortfalls and operating the district in a state of fiscal crisis, it is prudent for the board to look at ways to streamline operations and explore options to plan for long-term stability. It is important for students, teachers, staff and families to have a stable and successful school system.
That said, the leap from “we need to plan for stability” to directing the superintendent to immediately implement a strategy for closing schools is a large and unnecessary one. This is especially true at this particular time when, as has been brought up in several recent board discussions, the schools are not in a particular financial crisis and have the opportunity to take the time to do careful long-range planning.
In contrast to agenda item B (the leap to close schools), Noble’s resolution proposes to explore multiple options to address the ongoing and long-term issues facing the district. The resolution will allow García and her staff, with the involvement of the community, to seek creative solutions to issues such as equity, aging facilities, declining enrollment, etc. that are undeniable problems within the district. Given the district’s relatively recent history, this comprehensive approach seems more likely to succeed than simply closing schools.
In 2010, the district consolidated three schools (Alvord, Kaune, Larragoite) and (relatively) promptly found itself in dire financial straits. There may not be a direct cause and effect, and surely the state’s larger economic woes had a lot to do with the district’s financial problems. The point is that closing three schools in 2010 didn’t provide a long-term solution to the district’s budget problems, let alone the equity issues within the district. I see no reason to believe that closing three more schools will do so now.
I encourage the board to set aside the notion of proceeding directly to school closures and, instead, take a more considered approach to solving the district’s problems.
Jim Riesterer is a resident of Santa Fe and the proud parent of two boys attending Nava Elementary.