By Jennie Lusk
It has never been more important to know who you are voting for in the Albuquerque Public Schools board elections. If ever doing your homework before voting has been important, it is now.
There are multiple Democrats in some races, some erstwhile Republicans and “Decline to State” (DTS) candidates running, but none is identified by political affiliation on the ballot. School board candidates are literally at the bottom of the ballot, easily ignored. Unlike in the mayoral race, there is no potential for a run-off between the top two candidates; it’s a winner-take-all race. With New Mexico’s consolidation of the school board election with municipal races, candidates for school board will compete for voter attention with mayoral and city council races. Few people will be aware of school board candidate politics, political opinions or accomplishments and many will skip APS races altogether.
John Dyrcz, the State Affiliate Political Organizer for the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico, advises looking to labor endorsements above all in voting for school board members for this election. Though it may be unsurprising that a staffer for a teachers’ union suggests backing union candidates, the AFT-NM endorsement is worth careful examination in the November 2 school board races. Why?
- Nationally, school boards are seen by some groups as an open door to political office. Q-Anon conspiracy proponents have cropped up in some places. See https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/columnists/story/2021-06-25/column-qanon-followers-are-running-for-school-boards-local-offices In some New Mexico school board elections, bathrooms for transgender students was highlighted as an issue for some “stealth” candidates. This time around, the emphasis tends toward anti-mask mandates and critical race theory. Using hot button issues as entré to an election remains suspect, and understanding the role of school boards is essential.
- There are no incumbents running in this year’s APS board elections. The four seats on the ballot constitute a majority of the seven-member board. Since a majority of the board will be inexperienced, understanding the board’s role and its impact on communities is critical.
- In New Mexico’s school districts with fewer than 12,000 K-12 students, school board candidates are not even required to report sources of their contributions, Dyrcz cautioned. Therefore, candidates in 83 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts can accept money from virtually any source with no legal responsibility for informing voters. Although APS, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Gallup, Las Cruces, and Gadsden school districts do require reports of contributions, the lack of transparency statewide can lead to problems down the road. Successful school board members routinely seek higher office during or after their tenure on local boards, building on name recognition they earn in races funded by unknown groups. This is certainly true in New Mexico where several legislators are current or former school board members.
- In the schools context, a pro-union stance is especially important for Democratic voters, Dyrcz said. The Democratic Party platform is pro-union. APS is one of the state’s largest employers, with 15,000 employees from crossing guards to administrators, from accountants to teachers. Endorsements by “pro-business” groups such as the Chamber of Commerce indicate support for decisions that favor increasing private contracts and, in some cases, private schools. See the pro-business stances of Trump national Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who planned to direct COVID funding to private schools, as but one telling example. “The pro-business support of more Democrats in school board races is strategic,” Dyrcsz said. “Public schools are about the only area of society that has not been monetized successfully,” he continued, noting that since pro-union Republicans have disappeared from the political arena, business interests back Democrats as a huge potential funding source. Beyond that, he said, there are no contribution limits for school board races. The organizer reported hearing that one candidate received a $15,000 contribution from pro-business contributors immediately upon agreeing to run.
Each of the APS district races this year is unique. In the far Northeast Heights (District 7), Julie Brenning is the only actual Democrat, although she has a DTS opponent. In the Foothills to Four Hills (District 6) race, Josie Dominguez is the only Democrat on the ballot. (The only Republican was disqualified because the candidate did not live in the district.) In the Downtown (District 3) race, and West Side (District 5) races, there two Democrats are on the ballot. Since the Blue Review cannot make an endorsement for races with competing candidates from our party, we simply encourage voters to do their homework.