We are not typically fans of the state or federal government stepping into the affairs of local government. One exception to that general rule is when the officials who serve in local governmental bodies fail miserably.
And that’s what happened last week, thank goodness, when the state Public Education Department suspended the authority of the Questa School Board.
In its report, the department noted harassment and micromanagement of school personnel, conflicts of interest, violations of the Open Meetings Act, and even fistfights.
According to the education department’s report, the three worst offenders were board members Matt Ortega, Daryl Ortega and Tammy Jaramillo, who reportedly exceeded their authority in pressuring former superintendents to fire school personnel. The report said in one instance, Matt Ortega struck his son in a school parking lot and then harassed the school principal for reporting it to authorities.
No wonder the Questa district has been unable to hang onto a superintendent for very long. The last one the board hired lasted a few weeks this summer. Now, an interim superintendent has taken his place.
Members disagree with the board’s suspension. Matt Ortega said the allegations are politically motivated and retaliation for fulfilling “fiduciary obligations and responsibilities as a board member.”
The board will get its shot to defend itself and submit a plan next month on how it would improve the way it functions.
Meanwhile the Public Education Department has appointed its deputy secretary to serve in place of the board until at least until Nov. 5, when a public hearing will be held.
We are glad for Questa’s schoolchildren the state stepped in.
We only wish the Richardson administration’s Public Education Department under then-secretary Veronica García had been as responsive when it came to the previous Taos Municipal School Board. We witnessed countless incidents in which the majority of that board exceeded its authority and targeted school personnel and others.
That board didn’t engage in fistfights, but certain members were prone to biting comments and even name-calling at public meetings.
The Public Education Department, too, sent reps to the board meetings to witness first-hand its dysfunctional state. But it did nothing despite numerous requests made by public officials and private citizens for it to suspend the Taos board.
The Taos Municipal School Board changed for the better following the 2011 election.
Frankly, we aren’t confident the Questa School Board will turn this situation around. The board has been dysfunctional for too long.
But our hope is that members entrusted by voters to oversee the education of Questa’s schoolchildren put that ahead of their personal agendas. That’s why they were elected.