Here’s a good way to make sure that dropout rates at area schools
remain high and that kids become even less engaged with education than
they are now: Follow the advice of the Santa Fe Public Schools’ district
budget advisory subcommittee and consolidate small schools into big
Last year, SFPS had a go at closing Alvord Elementary despite evidence that doing so would not result in net savings. Last-minute action by Gov. Bill Richardson prevented the closure and Alvord has since become a magnet school—offering its progressive pedagogy to students throughout the district.
That’s all well and good, argues the budget advisory subcommittee, but SFPS is staring down the barrel of a $7.3 million shortfall next year. The conclusion from SFPS Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez: “There will be unpopular decisions.”
Bad economy, slim funding, tough times—we get it. But is setting in motion a plan to wipe out all the small schools (except, probably, tony east-side ones such as Acequia Madre Elementary School)—a plan that will just become the way it is for the foreseeable future—really the smart way to get through a temporary budget crisis?
Think New Mexico, the applied-solutions think tank that rescued New Mexico from the food tax the first time around (and lobbied hard to save us again during the recent “tortilla tax” fiasco), is in a full-court press to get the state to mandate more small schools, not fewer small schools. Why? Because, according to Think New Mexico literature, “smaller schools have higher graduation rates, higher student achievement, lower levels of student alienation and violence, and higher levels of satisfaction among students, parents, principals, and teachers. Small schools also dramatically improve the performance of low-income children, which helps to narrow the persistent achievement gap.” Larger schools also tend to be less efficient than small schools, so any financial savings based on consolidation may be temporary.
We do need long-term solutions to better public school funding so that short-term hatchet jobs can be avoided. For starters, Santa Fe is going to have to wake up to the reality that property taxes are too low. Tackling that would be an appropriate, if “unpopular,” decision.
Another unpopular decision in the ether is the City Council’s recent thumbs-up to the demolition of part of a Railyard building. Santa Fe Clay is vacating its lease—it doesn’t care for the price or the parking at the Railyard—and moving to a new location. But someone—probably John and Rose Utton, who have developed several other properties on the Railyard—has to take over the lease. If the Uttons do so, they’ll want a new building that can attract rents that make it worthwhile.
The argument against tearing down the building says that it will bring increasingly expensive rents to an area that public planning designated as an arts corridor. Additional arguments cite the movie theater hole-in-the-ground debacle—as a warning against creating a new hole where a perfectly good building sits—as well as the lackluster sales and tenancy at the ArtYard adjacent to the Railyard Park.
It’s true that the city and, by extension, the Railyard Community Corporation have an obligation to maintain the character and use of the Railyard as stipulated in the publicly influenced master plan. It’s also true that every Santa Fean should be grateful to the Uttons—if they hadn’t engaged the development of the Railyard as energetically as they did, much of the area would be an ill-defined ruin and we’d still be waiting around for a Railyard district. The Uttons have proven themselves to be thoughtful developers and engaged, responsible, well-liked landlords. In the event they do build a new building on the Santa Fe Clay site, I do have a request however: please not another Devendra Narayan Contractor building. Contractor, the architect for many of the buildings in the Railyard, is a perfectly fine architect and he’s mostly done a great job (sorry, not a fan of the LewAllen Galleries building), but it’s time for more architectural variation.
It’s also time for complainers of the “you can’t tear that down because you can’t” variety to quit moaning and engage the process. We need solutions, not loggerheads. How about getting a developer to commit to a perimeter of kiosk-type spaces surrounding any new building—microgalleries designed so that rents can actually be affordable, built-in food-cart-style operations with foldout counters and stools? All the law offices and high rents can be stuffed in the belly of the beast, and the Railyard can contain actual character.
Or, I suppose we can keep arguing about fantasy versus commercialism.
The good news is that the Rail Runner is set to launch its free public Wi-fi this month. Oh, wait, that’s controversial around here as well, isn’t it?
The city is about to launch a series of town hall meetings (beginning at 7 pm Thursday, April 8 at the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center at 1121 Alto St.) because in the last six years staff has been unable to draft a simple telecommunications ordinance. No matter what happens, the ultimate decision is going to be unpopular with someone: Wi-fi opponents, preservationists, or people who want increased connectivity and economic opportunity.
Sometimes, you just can’t win.
Follow Zane’s World on Twitter: @Zanes_World