Santa Fe students dismissed early to lobby Legislature

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) — Thousands of kids were released early from Santa Fe Public Schools Thursday so they could rally at the Roundhouse, and they showed up big time.

The protest was meant to send a message to Gov. Martinez to avoid education cuts as the state deals with its budget crisis.

The crowd gathered at the Roundhouse where they chanted and marched around the building with signs.

“We are here because we do not want children to suffer anymore cuts to education. We are the 49th in the [nation] for a great many things. We do not want to be number 50. We want our children to come first all the time, everyday,” Chaparral Elementary School Principal Coleen Korce said.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia put up a poll on the district’s website asking parents if they wanted schools to close early Thursday for a protest. The majority said “yes.”

She’s worried next year’s $350 million budget shortfall will lead to classroom cuts, job losses or fewer school days. There’s 12,000 students in Santa Fe Public Schools and 2,000 staff members.

The turnout for the rally looked like it was in the high hundreds at least. Some families made it up to the Governor’s Office to drop off letters, but the Governor’s Office says these students should be in school.

“I think this is adults trying to manipulate children to send a message, which is ‘we believe in this and frankly, the budget and these tax increases, so it’s OK to balance the budget on the backs of hardworking New Mexicans,'” Keith Gardner, the governor’s chief of staff, said.

“It’s unfortunate. Number one, those kids should be in the classroom and learning,” Garner said.

“She has not cut and will not cut classroom spending,” he said.

Garner said the better civics lesson would be for demonstrators to send a message to lawmakers instead of the executive branch, where demonstrators dropped off letters against cuts.

Stephen Winterstein, a parent and teacher in Santa Fe, responded, “She’s threatened to veto anything with a tax increase, but she’s not doing anything to help education. So I don’t see how that’s not her problem.”

The Senate plans to send revenue increasing measures, including several tax hikes to the governor, to fix the 2018 shortfall, but the governor is against tax hikes and believes fixing the budget can be done without cuts to anyone, by a tax code reform. Of course, with so little time left, this could spill over into a special session.

The fix to this year’s budget already included $46 million in cuts to public schools.

 

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