Morning Word

New Mexico Extends School Calendar Despite Objections

St. John’s College student workers allege union-busting by admin

PED adopts 180-day classroom rule

Despite overwhelming opposition from teachers, faculty and the National Education Association in New Mexico, the Public Education Department announced yesterday it is moving forward with a rule proposed last winter requiring public schools to provide a minimum of 180 instructional days beginning in the 2024-2025 school year as part of efforts to address ongoing low performance. “We’ve been the last and the worst performing state in the union,” Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero told reporters yesterday. “We know that this isn’t reflective of who we are, and we’re going to do everything we can to challenge and change that.” Be that as it may, local educators remain concerned. “It’s going to add to a very demanding job already,” Milagro Middle School seventh-grade teacher Aaron Abeyta tells SFR. “I think we’re at a point right now with the kids and the teachers, it’s going to add to burnout.” Fellow Milagro teacher and National Education Association-Santa Fe President Grace Mayer also expressed frustration PED adopted the rule against widespread objections. “We have elected school boards, and we have local control. This is not local control,” Mayer tells SFR. “This is PED overreaching and imposing its will on every community in New Mexico, and I think that fundamentally, that’s wrong…and fundamentally undemocratic.” Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez says to comply with the new rule, SFPS will be adding six days to next year’s school calendar.

US Senate passes RECA bill again

On a 69-30 vote yesterday, the US Senate passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Reauthorization Act. In addition to extending the bill’s expiration date and deadlines for claims, the bill also for the first time allows compensation to New Mexicans who have suffered illness as a result of nuclear testing, such as the Trinity test downwinders, and uranium miners. The Senate passed the legislation last summer as well, but it was subsequently stripped out of the annual defense bill at the end of the year. In a statement following the vote, US Sen. Ben Ray Luján—who is co-sponsoring the bill with Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Crapo of Idaho—characterized its passage as “the closest we have ever been to providing justice and compensation for those who have suffered at the hands of our country’s national security. Today’s bipartisan vote delivers a clear message to the generations of New Mexicans living with the lasting impacts of the Trinity Test that our country has a moral obligation to address this injustice and compensate families for their suffering.” Luján has introduced RECA legislation every Congress since he was first elected to the US House in 2008. Luján credited the efforts of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium co-founder Tina Cordova and former uranium miner Phil Harrison (Navajo), both of whom were guests of Luján and US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández at last night’s State of the Union address. Both Luján and US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, who spoke before the vote, note the need for the House to now take up the bill. “Every day that Congress does not act is another day that the federal government has failed these victims,” Luján says.

St. John’s College student workers try to unionize

An emergent student workers’ union at St. John’s College has filed allegations of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board against the school’s administration, saying they were illegally blocked from organizing. Undergraduate student employees created the Student Workers Coalition in the fall, initially meeting as a club, according to senior Reese Matthews, who works as a music assistant. “I showed up at the first few meetings, basically to support this club project, but then we started hearing about all of these issues that other people were having with their jobs, and I was pretty shocked,” Matthews tells SFR. Students felt taken advantage of or weren’t being paid for the hours they worked, she says, and supervisors had ignored their concerns. They ultimately connected with Communication Workers of America Union for assistance and enlisted the aide of CWA representative Milagro Padilla, who has worked with previous local unionization efforts such as the Meow Wolf Workers Collective. The union in December then met with SJC President Mark Roosevelt to call for the union to be recognized. While the union reps and the president both agreed to extend the time allowed for a response, other actions on the part of the administration—such as asking union reps to waive their rights to file unfair labor practices against the school for the duration of a private meeting—constitute “union-busting,” efforts, Padilla says. As of press time, the situation remains at a stand-still, with the college’s Board of Visitors and Governors weighing in with a letter saying it believes recognizing a union would be a mistake and, moreover, the CWA efforts lack “community support.”

DOH announces new public health director

Starting April 1, Dr. José Acosta will become the state health department’s new director of its public health division, DOH announced yesterday. Last June, Health Secretary Pat Allen appointed Acosta to lead the department’s Developmental Disabilities Supports Division in the wake of investigations that revealed abuse by providers. In announcing Acosta’s new role yesterday, Allen in a statement said Acosta had “done outstanding work” through “a challenging time, and I’m confident he has the public health, medical and leadership background and experience to take public health to the next level, as DOH works to achieve its goal for New Mexico to become the healthiest state in the nation by 2040.” Prior to his stint in the DDS division, Acosta also served as the department’s chief medical officer in 2022, and previously held the position of executive medical director for the US Navy Pacific Fleet. In a statement, Acosta said he was “humbled and honored” to become the new public health division director and said he is “deeply committed to the Secretary’s goal of making New Mexico the healthiest state by 2040. I look forward to collaborating with our incredible team and partners, as together, we strive to improve the health outcomes of our communities.”

Listen up

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appears on The New Republic’s podcast, The Daily Blast, talking with host Greg Sargent about “guns, the Hispanic vote, the Trump-Biden showdown and MAGA-fueled misogyny.” Lujan Grisham, the show notes proclaim, “is smack in the middle of some big trends in our politics right now: the transformation of the Southwest, the success of Democrats in border states and the rise of the female Democratic governor in the era of Donald Trump.” Regarding her recent enactment of gun restrictions, including banning weapons at polling places and the potential for election-related violence, Lujan Grisham tells Sargent while she hopes no such violence occurs: “I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. Just look at the Trump era pre-and post-COVID. Certainly I was threatened. Any of our marches or protests were met with far too many individuals who were openly carrying weapons.” Thus, “New Mexico is going to take every kind of precaution…we’re not going to tolerate that level of risk at our polling places.”

Moving on up

The Wall Street Journal examines the American Southwest’s “embrace” of “vertical living,” in which a development shift from single-family homes to duplexes and triplexes is affording inhabitants views and, in the case of Albuquerque where the story opens, “changing the silhouette” of the city. For instance, Kayla and Derrick Perry II moved to Albuquerque in January and decided to rent a triplex at the new complex Allaso High Desert. Kayla is a program manager at a technology company; Derrick works as data analyst at Sandia National Laboratories. “I get the space and feel of a home, but also the security of being part of an apartment community,” Kayla says, noting that until the couple decides Albuquerque is for them: “This is the easiest for us.” The Perry’s new multi-story home, WSJ writes, is part of a growing trend in Albuquerque and the whole Southwest: “To address their share of a national housing shortage, desert cities are going for density. Long happy to sprawl into undeveloped land, many are changing building codes and zoning laws to promote multifamily development, easing restrictions on height and the number of units.” Albuquerque Housing, Family and Community Services Deputy Director Joseph Montoya tells the paper the city through its Housing Forward ABQ plans to create 5,000 more units by 2025.

Queer capers in NM

The New Yorker talks with husband-and-wife filmmakers Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke via Zoom from their Airbnb in Albuquerque, where they are filming the second installment of what the story describes as the couple’s planned lesbian trilogy (co-written, with Coen directing). The New Mexico Film Office earlier this week announced that second installment, Honey Don’t! is filming in and around Albuquerque through May, although it described the movie simply as “the story of a detective investigating the death of a young woman and its connection to a mysterious church.” The first film in the series, Drive-Away Dolls, opened last month and stars Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) as “two lesbian friends, in 1999, who can’t avoid rubbing each other the wrong way,” the New Yorker writes. “When Jamie’s girlfriend, Sukie (Beanie Feldstein), tosses her out of the house for cheating, Jamie joins Marian on a trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee, and the two find themselves in the midst of a complicated scheme involving a severed head, assorted dildos, a crooked conservative senator, and a mysterious briefcase.” Honey Don’t! which also stars Qualley, is “more noir than comedy.” Coen and Cooke “want it to retain the feel of a B movie.” Says Cooke: “The world is a rough place. And I do a lot of political-activism work, so, for me, to tell stories that are a little bit silly or trashy or stupid, it’s just a sigh of relief.” Honey Don’t also stars Aubrey Plaza (The White Lotus), and Chris Evans (Avengers) and will employ more than 600 New Mexicans: 150 crew members, 15 principal actors and 450 background talent, according to the state Film Office. With his brother Joel, Ethan Coen previously filmed several other films here, including O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Burn After Reading.

Rain and shine

The National Weather Service forecasts a 60% chance of precipitation today with a slight chance of snow showers—albeit with scant accumulation—before 8 am, followed by a mix of snow and rain turning to likely rain showers after 11 am. When it’s not raining, today will be mostly cloudy, with a high temperature near 46 degrees and southeast wind 5 to 15 mph. More of the same tonight, but look for a drier sunny Saturday with a high temperature near 48 degrees. Sunday will warm up again with sunny skies and high temperatures in the mid 50s.

Thanks for reading! The Word plans to spend (part of) the weekend watching NPR Tiny Desk submissions, particularly the ones from New Mexico.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.