SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Public Education Department (PED) is launching an investigation into Santa Fe Public Schools exactly a week after the superintendent dismissed schools early so that students and teachers could attend a rally at the Roundhouse.
Seven Santa Fe public school buses shuttled students, teachers and parents to a rally at the Roundhouse last week for those interested in protesting education budget cuts, according to a district spokesperson.
Superintendent Dr. Veronica Garcia says bus drivers volunteered their time and the National Education Association paid field trip mileage rates, which amounted to about $200, to use the buses.
“No public dollars were used for the transportation,” Dr. Garcia said.
However, in a letter to the superintendent, Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the use of school buses and the district website to organize and announce the rally appears to break the law.
PED is launching an investigation.
“I am confident that there is no violation of any statute or regulation,” Superintendent Garcia said in response. “I feel that the letter represents an overreach by the department.”
The superintendent dismissed schools early last Thursday for the protest, but the PED letter claims at least one principal made attendance at the rally mandatory. That is something Garcia said she is not aware of and does not condone.
In response to concerns over tax dollars and teacher pay, the superintendent said teachers will still work the instructional hours required by contract and that extra time is always built into the school year to take off days for snow or emergencies.
“The district did not misuse public funds. I am confident of that, and we will provide all documentation to prove that,” Dr. Garcia said.
The school district has 30 days to look into the complaints and provide PED with a report of its findings.
PED said concerns in the letter were based on complaints from parents and community members.
PED also asked the attorney general and the state auditor to look into the matter.
“I am hoping that this is not politically motivated,” Superintendent Garcia told KRQE News 13.
Secretary Skandera provided the following statement on the issue:
We have made great strides in reforming New Mexico’s educational system by ensuring accountability. When the superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools directed releasing students early, and then encouraged teachers to load school buses during the school day to protest at the capitol, it raised a serious red flag for the department. We are concerned that funds meant for students were used instead for political purposes. School funds are supposed to be used to help educate our kids – not advancing personal politics. We take this very seriously and are looking into this issue.