Hey! Did you know we have a community college board election next week? That’s right, two open positions are up for grabs on the Santa Fe Community College governing board. The election is March 5 — and it’s likely that even if you are a registered voter, you will not be planning to vote.
Earlier this month, the Santa Fe Public Schools had an election, this one for two seats on the Board of Education and for $130 million in public bonds. In that election, too, very few voters went to the polls despite the large amount of public money on the ballot. To decide to spend $130 million, some 4,341 voted in favor, with 1,200 against, out of 84,000 voters. That’s hardly a true voice of the people.
Nonpartisan school elections — both of the local and the community college variety — attract little or no attention. And that’s a shame, because the issues decided in our public schools and colleges (not to mention the millions of dollars spent) deserve a robust public discussion. Without public buy in, there is little oversight.
At the least, Santa Fe should do what is done in Albuquerque. There, the school board and community college elections take place at the same time, saving money and giving citizens a one-stop vote. Having the school district election and the college governing board election weeks apart makes little sense. In an attempt to get a bigger turnout, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Bernalillo, and State Rep. Jim Smith, R-Bernalillo, would let school board elections be held at the same time as municipal and other nonpartisan elections. That’s more complicated than it sounds, because while most cities in New Mexico vote in March, not all do. We could end up having school board elections at different times of the year. While that is not ideal, we would prefer elections with a higher turnout to elections where so few citizens participate. The community college elections could be added to the nonpartisan elections through resolutions among the different bodies.
Too much is at stake — both in educating children and in spending public money — not to place school elections when more people vote. Municipal elections, of course, aren’t necessarily big attention-getters. But they generally will grab more of the spotlight than a race for the community college governing board.