On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Santa Fe voters will have the opportunity to elect two new members to Santa Fe Public Schools' Board of Education. All four candidates are new to public office, and the two who are elected will play a key role in shaping the district over the next four years. In Santa Fe, school board members are charged with hiring the superintendent and holding regular meetings to deal with a range of issues, from budgeting to staffing. SFR conducted interviews with each candidate; we've included some key facts about them, along with their responses to two questions: why they're running, and what their first priority would be if elected. Most mentioned graduation rates, secondary education reform and teacher salaries as key issues. A bond question is also on the ballot this year, letting voters decide whether to authorize the district to spend $130 million in bond funds for school improvements. School board elections often have relatively low turnout, but their importance shouldn't be underestimated: Even if you don't know (or have) kids in local public schools, your tax dollars help pay for the ones who are. So get out and vote!
Polls are open 7 am-7 pm Tuesday, Feb. 5. To find your polling location, visit the Santa Fe County Clerk's website at co.santa-fe.nm.us/clerk or call the clerk's office at 986-6280.
Fred "David" Zimbler
Profession: semi-retired, but says he's still involved with some family businesses
Why he's running: "I'm doing this for the teachers," Zimbler tells SFR. His wife teaches at EJ Martinez Elementary School, and he's passionate about teachers' rights. In addition, he emphasizes his "skill set honed over 40-plus years" in business and management, which he says would be essential in helping direct SFPS' budgetary policy.
First priority: According to Zimbler, morale in local public schools is at an all-time low as teachers, principals and staff suffer through a "culture of fear…they're afraid to speak out against the administration for fear of reprisal." Zimbler points to factors like "too much testing" and overly restrictive professional development plans for teachers and cautions against too much reform, too fast.
Profession: community school director, Aspen Community Magnet School (works for United Way of Santa Fe County through a partnership with Aspen
Why she's running: As both an educator and a nonprofit program manager, Duncan says she "can see education through two lenses: through the point of view of the teacher, but also through the point of view of the manager. Especially given the current push for reform, she says, "I would like to put my experience to use to try to improve the schools in Santa Fe."
First priority: Though hard-pressed to choose just one, Duncan settles on raising salaries for teachers and lower-paid employees (but not top administrators). "I think we're having a hard time attracting and retaining good staff because our salaries aren't competitive," she says.
Endorsement: Susan Duncan
SFR endorses Susan Duncan. While Zimbler has done his research about the issues facing SFPS and is clearly knowledgeable about fiscal matters, the depth of Duncan’s experience in education-related fields—as an educator, administrator and nonprofit worker—makes her the stronger candidate. As an added bonus, she’s bilingual, which we hope will help her bridge the gap between Santa Fe’s diverse student populations and enable her to reach out particularly to English Language Learners. In addition, her enthusiasm for well-conceived reform will help the district explore better ways to move forward academically.
Profession: retired SFPS educator
Why she's running: Given her long experience as a teacher and principal in local schools, Price says she can bring both "institutional memory" and "perspective from the trenches" to the school board. "I just feel a deep commitment to the community," she says. "I believe with citizenship comes responsibility," she adds, "and now [that I'm retired], I have an opportunity to meet this responsibility."
First priority: The budget. "If elected, I would be coming in there in the middle of the [budget] process, and that is a major responsibility of the school board," Price says. In addition, she hopes to help with Boyd's education reform initiatives while continuing to support the needs of teachers and students, particularly English Language Learners and special education students.
Profession: criminal investigations division commander, Santa Fe Police Department
Why he's running: "I wanted to bring something to the table to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students in Santa Fe Public Schools," Carlos says. As a father of seven with four kids in the public schools, he's also "very concerned" about low graduation rates.
First priority: Carlos says he'll focus on high-school education reform first. Incidentally, SFPS administrators released a report in December outlining four possible options for secondary education reform. "I like them all," Carlos says. "I know it's a politician's statement, but I can't rely on just one yet because every single one of them has great ideas." He also points out that many questions—such as cost, funding sources, and ways to address different student populations—remain unanswered.
Endorsement: Lorraine Price
SFR endorses Lorraine Price. Price, who worked her way up through local public schools as a teacher and principal, has extensive experience not only in public education generally, but here in Santa Fe especially. Since retiring, she says she’s “rested” and ready to work. Although Carlos’ public safety experience would undoubtedly be useful, his understanding of and experience with the issues facing public education in Santa Fe, from common core standards and No Child Left Behind to reform efforts like teacher evaluation and ending social promotion, leave something to be desired. However, he’s young enough to learn and would be welcome in the public sphere again.
The 2013 General Obligation, or GO, Bond, asks voters to approve up to $130 million in bonds “for the purpose of erecting, remodeling, making additions to and furnishing school buildings; purchasing or improving school grounds; purchasing computer software and hardware for student use in public schools; providing matching funds for capital outlay projects funded pursuant to the Public School Capital Outlay Act; or any combination of these purposes.”
A key focus this bond cycle will be secondary, or high school, education needs. A large portion of the allocated funds (just over $60 million) would help finish up “carry-over” projects from the 2009 bond, which focused on the construction, renovation, energy conservation and other improvements of Santa Fe Public Schools facilities. These “Phase One” projects included construction on Agua Fría Elementary, renovations for Piñon, Kearny and Atalaya elementary schools and designs for a new southside K-8 school.
In addition to funding for these carry-over projects, $35.4 million would benefit initial secondary education reform facility improvements, and the remaining costs ($34.53 million) would cover districtwide projects; critical needs projects; new priority projects; design and construction; and new priority projects design. The 2009 bond resulted in savings in energy costs as well as the beginnings of renovations and construction on secondary school structures. The 2013 bond aims to further or complete these initial projects—cutting energy costs through energy and water conservation, repairing structures in need of upkeep and evaluating the needs of secondary school programs.
While it cannot cover operating expenses, such as increasing teacher salaries, the 2013 bond also would not raise taxes. (Mia Rose Carbone)
SFR’s endorsement: YES on the bond question.