BELEN-A long-time educator and administrator, as well as former Belen Board of Education member, has been appointed to fill the vacant seat on the board until the November election.

At a special meeting on June 9, the four remaining members of the Belen Board of Education unanimously appointed Larry Garley to fill the seat vacated by Lisa Chavez.

Larry Garley Belen Board of Education member

Garley held the District 5 seat for one term, from 2014 to 2017 before losing to Chavez.

Because her son-in-law applied for a teaching position with Belen Schools, Chavez resigned from her seat on the board in May so as to not violate state nepotism laws for public schools and the district’s conflict of interest policy.

Garley said Chavez was a great candidate and did an excellent job as a board member.

“She beat me and that’s OK. She was very conscientious and always for the kids,” Garley said after his appointment. “I’m here for the students, parents and of course, the teachers.”

Garley was a teacher for 37 years, 35 at Belen High School, where he retired from. He also taught driver’s education for 42 years and owned Garley’s School of Driving.

“I bring knowledge of education to the board,” he said, acknowledging there were already several former educators on the board. “Everyone has different experiences though. I was a part-time administrator, athletic coordinator, coached football for 11 years, basketball for 12 and golf for 29 years.

“I have lots of different types of experiences that I think can only help the board. We all have different perspectives.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Western New Mexico University and a master’s degree in school administration from New Mexico Highlands.

During his interview with the board, Garley said he must be honest and ethical, and keep the discussion of board business at board meetings. He said he would do his due diligence in studying what’s happening in the district to ensure he has enough information to make good decisions, as well as visit the school sites regularly.

He told the News-Bulletin in a later interview that when he was a board member he was highly-rated for attending meetings and trainings hosted by the New Mexico School Board Association.

“I learned quite a bit. I don’t go someplace just to visit. I go to learn and I came back from a lot of them with experience form other people sharing their knowledge,” he said.

One board member asked Garley how he saw the separation of church and state in its application to public schools. He responded he believed in the separation, and as a public school, they could not bring in religion.

“Everyone has the right to worship how they want, where ever they want but it cannot be brought into schools and forced on students or staff,” Garley said. “The reason for the separation is so no one can be discriminated against due to religion.”

Garley told the board his No. 1 priority while on the board would be student safety, saying students are the most important things the district has.

“Anything we can do make schools safer is a  top priority. Our schools have always been safe, and I know it’s been a priority of all you as board members,” he said.

Saying he has always been proud of the district and a proud Eagle, Garley said he would carry a message of positivity about the district as a board member.

When asked how he handles conflict in general, Garley said the proper way was to “talk it out. Arguing and fighting doesn’t work. Talking things out and accepting other peoples point of view is critical. I might disagree, but if someone outvotes me I will accept that because that is the will of the board.”

Board President Aubrey Tucker asked Garley how he would approach balancing the provision of a quality education with the community’s taxpayer burden.

“You’ll be faced with the fact that there hasn’t been a raise in the tax burden in more than a decade while there are projects promised and, right now, we’re seeing an extreme increase in the cost of building materials,” Tucker aid. “Our revenue is not increasing but our burden to build buildings and do more is going up.”

Saying it might be an unpopular idea, Garley said the district could consider evaluating all the buildings it has and deciding if they were all necessary.

“That may be difficult to do but if we can move people to another building, that could work,” he said. “I know people in Belen have been very good about school bonds, but I know they are having difficulties right now.

“I would like to see if we can possibly make buildings more efficient and maybe shut down some buildings.”

Garley wrapped up his time in front of the board saying this might be the best board he’s seen for the district.

“I would be very proud to be on this board. The leadership ability on this board is awesome,” he said.

Garley said he is thinking about running for the board seat, which was coming up for election in November whether or not Chavez stepped down.

“You never know. Things can change,” he said. “I would like to run again.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.