A hearing regarding whether to continue the Questa Independent School Board’s suspension is still on for Dec. 10 after being postponed once, according to information from the Public Education Department (PED).
State Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera suspended the authority of the board in September, citing alleged conflicts of interest, violations of the Open Meetings Act, harassment, micromanagement and a failure to perform its duties.
The allegations center on board members Matt Ortega, Tammy Jaramillo and Daryl Ortega.
The Dec. 10 hearing is meant to give the board a chance to “appear and show cause why the suspension should not continue and be made permanent,” Skandera’s letter states. It is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Taos Convention Center on Civic Plaza Drive.
Since the resignation of former board member Urban “Bob” Jaramillo earlier this year due to health concerns, the remaining board members have been mired in a 3-3 split. They were not able to agree on a replacement for Jaramillo.
The Cuddy and McCarthy Law Firm withdrew itself from representing the board only a matter of days before the hearing was initially scheduled to take place Nov. 5, with attorney John Kennedy writing that representing the board as a whole is unworkable “given the internal conflicts among the opposing factions on the board.” Less than two weeks before he withdrew himself, Kennedy wrote a response to Skandera in which he argued the suspension is “unwarranted.”
Suspended board president Bernie Torres said he feels it would be “pointless” to try to hire an attorney to represent the board in its entirety. He said the “faction” that includes himself, Jack Gallegos and Kenny Gallegos is going to head into the hearing without legal representation.
“It’s a really weird, complicated thing,” Torres said. “It’s almost like a divorce case where both parties have the same lawyer.” Torres said he doesn’t know what to expect from the hearing.
“I personally didn’t feel that we should try to saddle the district with any attorney fees,” Torres said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s kind of a weird situation ... It is what it is. The allegations are not against us.”
Neither Matt Ortega nor Tammy Jaramillo responded to messages requesting comment prior to publication. Daryl Ortega declined to comment for this story.
Kennedy also wrote in a confidential letter to the board that “there is an obvious intent by members of the opposing factions to use the (hearing) for the purpose of attacking, challenging and seeking to discredit the opposing faction members.”
According to an agenda provided to The Taos News, the hearing will include oral arguments, witness presentations, closing statements and public comments. A Public Education Department (PED) staff report suggests the department focus on issues including board members’ exceeding their authority and impeding the board’s proper performance.
The PED attempted to negotiate with the board to avoid the hearing. The terms included Matt Ortega’s resignation, mandatory training sessions, PED monitoring and pledges by board members not to interfere with district staff or contractors. Sitting board members would also have to agree not to enter contracts with the district, as Daryl Ortega has in the past.
According to information from the PED, the Feb. 5 election “will continue as planned,” as the suspension has “no legal bearing” on it. In an ordinary year, seats held by Bernie Torres, Daryl Ortega and Matt Ortega would be on the Questa ballot; however, Bob Jaramillo’s resignation from the board may also be a consideration — state law calls for someone appointed to a school board vacancy to hold office “until the next regular or special school district election, when an election shall be held to fill the vacancies for the unexpired terms.”