More than 1,000 teachers, parents and students surround the Roundhouse this sunny Thursday afternoon to protest proposed budget cuts that could lead to layoffs or shortened school years.
The action comes just after Santa Fe Public Schools called for a half-day to allow teachers to demonstrate. After the buzzer rang around 1 pm, teachers gathered at rendezvous points to bus over to the Capitol.
Protestors demand that the governor reach a compromise with the Legislature to prevent more cuts to education. A proposed budget could slash an estimated $5.5 million from the district, according to Superintendent Veronica Garcia, who stands with the demonstrators today. That could lead to layoffs of about 80 teachers or shorten the next school year by up to 15 days.
Outside the capitol, the crowd chants, “Save our schools!” and more than one demonstrator carries a sign lamenting New Mexico’s national rank of 49th in education quality. Speakers line up to rally the crowd, including New Mexico's 2017 teacher of the year Stephanie Gurule-Leyba, a medical sciences instructor at Capital High School.
“I’m a New Mexico teacher. I love it. But I wish they helped us out,” says Ashleigh Bowker, a fifth grade teacher at Nina Otero Community School, adding that she teaches a class of 28 students, despite a capacity of 25. “It’s math. It’s common sense. That means less time for one-on-one. Our small groups can’t be as small. There’s less student-teacher interaction.”
As the speakers wind down their speeches, protesters head for a side door of the capitol building, where they plan to deliver letters to Gov. Susana Martinez’ office. The governor isn’t there to accept the message, however, as she attended the funeral of Houston James Largo, a Navajo Nation police officer who was shot to death Sunday.
Just before we join the protesters inside, Santa Fe Major Javier Gonzales grabs our shoulder. “This is all about Santa Fe coming out, standing up for our schools, making sure we stand up to some of the vindictiveness that comes out of this governor when it comes to families in New Mexico,” he says.
Protesters inside the capitol completely fill-up one side of the four-story staircase, a never-ending snake of disgruntled teachers and students who individually deliver messages to the governor’s office. Some pass on postcards prepared by the Santa Fe chapter of the National Education Association. Other letters are written in colored pencil.
“It’s up in the air. It’s really devastating. They’ll decimate Santa Fe Public Schools,” says Grace Mayer, president of the Santa Fe chapter of the NEA, a union of about 1,400 members. “We might not have athletics or music and arts programs,” adds Mayer, who is also an art teacher at De Vargas Middle School.
“We’re teachers, so we’re givers, not complainers,” says Melanie Hunter, an English teacher at Capshaw Middle School. Hunter carries a basket of apples, which she plans to deliver to the governor as a reminder of The Giving Tree. For those of you who cut class in elementary school, Hunter is referring to the classic picture book in which a tree sacrifices all its parts—branches, leaves, apples—to a little boy. Hunter reminds us, “In the end, it’s just a little stump.”
Watch our live coverage of the event here: