It’s been a little more than three months since Ernesto Valdez left his position as superintendent of the Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools, but following an April 25 Board meeting, it seems a replacement has been found.
The School Board voted, 3-1, Jan. 31, to put Valdez on administrative leave. Board President Marvyn Jaramillo, Secretary Moises Peña and Vice President Keisha Maestas voted in favor, while Board Member Andy Lopez voted against and Board Member John Garcia left before he was able to cast a vote.
The Board named Mesa Vista Middle and High School Principal Brian Henderson as acting superintendent, as he was the second in command, per Valdez’s chain of command organizational chart.
On Feb. 7, during a special meeting, El Rito Principal Elaine Romero was named interim superintendent. Jaramillo said via email, all District administrators were considered for the position, however, the majority of the Board voted in favor, after executive session, of appointing Romero.
A little more than two months later, Romero can drop the interim portion of her title, as the Board voted, 3-2, April 25, to appoint her to the position. Board Members Andy Lopez and John Garcia voted against appointing her.
But not everyone was happy about the move. After the vote, Lopez tendered his resignation from the Board, effective April 26.
He wrote in his letter, addressed to Jaramillo, Romero and New Mexico Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski, that he’s tried to “improve the school district’s poor public image, it’s beleaguered finances and poor professional conduct by the former Superintendent and current interim Superintendent to no avail.”
He wrote that his motions at the Board level, as well as his recommendations, have been ignored, while the Board majority does as it pleases.
“With the hiring tonight of Ms. Elaine Romero against my motion to offer the position to Mr. Michael Lovato a better-rounded administrator and the most capable person to lead our school district forward is the last straw,” he wrote. “In my professional opinion, Ms. Romero is the least qualified of the four Superintendents candidates’ we spend (sic) 5 hours interviewing today. She has been hired only because she is easily manipulated by you and the board majority and she will perform whatever the board majority mandates, many times contrary to the betterment of the student population whom we all took a pledge to serve to the best of our abilities.”
He then writes that his decision is not reversible and wishes Jaramillo and the Board majority well.
Romero wrote in an email statement that she is saddened by Lopez’s sudden resignation and particularly his false allegations, including her poor professional conduct.
“I always treated Mr. Lopez with the utmost respect and acknowledged the important collaboration necessary between a communities health (sic) and education entities,” she wrote. “When I arrived in El Rito last summer Mr. Lopez was very friendly, even offering a rental home in El Rito (at an amazingly low price) which of course, I didn’t accept.”
She wrote that she and Lopez spent time driving and talking and seemed to have mutual respect. However, she claims when she was named interim superintendent, Lopez immediately changed and made a false accusation during her first Board meeting on Feb. 28.
“I recognize that Mr. Lopez has a close friendship with Mr. Ernesto Valdez and hoped that he would remain professional and focus on building the education programs that Mesa Vista students deserve,” she wrote. “I also recognize that Mr. Lopez is preparing to retire and perhaps he is simply burnt out from his numerous years on the Mesa Vista School District School Board. So I don’t take his negative words personal (sic). I simply wish Mr. Lopez well in his retirement.”
She then writes that she’s honored to have been selected as the 2018-19 superintendent.
“The Interim position brought many issues to light including that Mesa Vista Consolidated District has received Emergency Supplemental (funding) since the 2011-2012 school year (which no one realized including School Board members),” she wrote.
She wrote that District officials learned about the supplemental funds from the Public Education Department.
“Our intention is to end this pattern,” she wrote. “There has been much transition in our district this year particularly in our Administration Office. I appreciate the staff who have stepped in, worked many extra hours, and stayed focused on keeping the adult problems from impacting our students. I also appreciate the Board Members and community members who have been supportive and not thrown additional obstacles in front of an already tumultuous year.”
Peña said Lopez’s resignation caught him off guard and claimed it was premeditated.
“I was deeply concerned with the content of his resignation letter,” he said. “Mr. Lopez always publicly demonstrated his full support of our former superintendent, gracing (sic) his superior job performance on numerous occasions, yet his reference to the poor professional conduct of the former superintendent leads me to wonder if he condoned that action.”
Peña said he respects Lopez’s decision, however he cannot disclose his thoughts on why he truly resigned.
He praised Romero’s work, thus far.
“Our district was in a tough situation when Ms. Romero was asked to step in as interim superintendent,” Peña said. “Ms. Romero took on a tough role. Ms. Romero fought for and gained the respect of teachers and support staff in our district. Ms. Romero was the best choice for our district.”
However, Lopez disagrees, saying there were far better choices for superintendent, who were more qualified.
Romero has been with the district for one year. Before coming to Mesa Vista, she was an instruction coach in instructional leadership and had other assistant principal responsibilities, from 2014 to 2017, at Matheson Park Elementary School, in Albuquerque.
It’s not clear who applied for the position, as the candidates’ names were not shared. Peña suggested an Inspection for Public Records Act Request be filed to obtain the applications.
He said Romero has a tough job ahead of her. The District has been in emergency funding for several years.
“Our District finances have not been managed well or maintained properly,” Peña said. “No one outside the business office had this knowledge, not even the Board. This has recently been exposed by our current business manager contractor. Ms. Romero is currently looking into how to overcome an $800,000 shortfall left by our former administration. I feel she will find a way to overcome this huge obstacle and lead our school in a positive direction.”
An email to Jaramillo, requesting comment, was not answered.