New Mexico

Las Cruces judge to consider whether school board members can be recalled

Las Cruces judge to determine fate of LCPS school board

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - A Las Cruces judge is expected to announce whether a group can move forward in the process to recall three school board members with Las Cruces Public Schools.

The hearing began Wednesday in Third Judicial District Court. The group trying to recall the board is called 'Enough' and is made up of about twenty former educators in the district, according to their attorney, CaraLyn Banks.

The group must prove to Judge James Martin that the school board violated any of the following: The New Mexico Open Meetings Act, the state's Inspection of Public Records Act or the Board's own policy on site selection for a new school (Columbia Elementary).

Inspection of Public Records Act

The group argued that the district provided different responses to a similar public records request from two parties.

In December 2018, former pricincipal Kathy Norris submitted an IPRA request asking for the number of school board employees placed on paid administrative leave. Because her request was "burdensome and broad," the district said it would take 18 months to fulfill the request.

ABC-7 made a similar request that was fulfilled within two weeks.

"In court today, we understand that channel 7 had asked the same thing and actually got a list of the number of people put on administrative leave for the past three years," Norris said. "That was a surprise to me."

"The district was able to provide the information to Ms. Bieri within 15 to 16 days, correct?" Banks asked.

"That is correct," said Damien Willis, the district's director of communications."

"With respect to Ms. Norris, would you agree that you told her that it would take about 18 months?" Banks asked.

"The same was told to Ms. Bieri," Willis said.

Upon searching through email correspondence with the district, ABC-7 could find no record of the LCPS attorney stating that the request would take longer than 18 months.

Board members stated that they were not involved with the granting of IPRA requests.

Board policy on site selection for Columbia Elementary

In a February meeting, board members voted to demolish the mold-infested Columbia Elementary and build it on a new site.

However, the group argued that board members could have violated their own policy by not gathering outside opinions.

That policy states that the board must ask for "community stakeholders' input" involving the city and the county.

"Did you or your fellow board members meet with a constituent to talk the Columbia issues?" Banks asked Board Member Ray Jaramillo, who represents district one.

"I had many constituents call me," Jaramillo said. "I had many articles that I would retweet."

Next steps

If the group is successful, the group must petition for the recall of three board members: Terri Dallman (District 2), Maria Flores (District 3) and Ray Jaramillo (District 1). If the group can gather one third of the signatures from the last school board election for each district, the issue will be put on the November ballot, according to Banks.

If the public votes to recall any of the three members this fall, a state official will then appoint a replacement, Banks said.

President Ed Frank (District 5) and Secretary Maury Castro (District 4) are not part of the recall process because their term is up in 2019, Banks said.

Judge Martin said his goal is to have a decision within ten days; he said he has to carefully review the transcripts before making an educated ruling.

District response

The district sent this statement to ABC-7: 

"This is a new law, and a lot of information was presented in court. We are grateful that the judge is taking the time necessary to review the evidence. We are confident in the case set forth by the district, and the facts put forward. We will let the process run its course, and await the ruling of the judge."

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