LOS LUNAS — More than nine months after two previously-suspended board members were reinstated to their elected positions, divisions on the Los Lunas Schools Board of Education have been obvious, including during the board reorganization earlier this month.
A series of 3-2 votes — with reinstated board members Bryan Smith and Eloy Giron dissenting the majority — marked Tina Garcia, David Vickers and Bruce Bennett again being voted president, vice president and secretary, respectively. Neither Giron nor Smith nominated or seconded any of the board members’ bids for leadership seats.
“I find it very, very difficult to support anybody that doesn’t represent this board without prejudice and there is a lot of prejudice on this board,” Smith said to Garcia during the Jan. 3 special meeting. “From three board members to the other two — its a 3-2 school board; that’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s been shown to be for the last nine months.”
Smith went on to add that he and Giron have been “ostracized and excluded no matter what the situation,” since they were reinstated to the Los Lunas Board of Education.
“I know for a fact I have not been prejudicial against anybody,” Garcia rebutted. “I know for a fact that I work really hard to try to unite this board and try to unite our district, and I’ll continue to do so. ”
For committee appointments, newly reelected board president Garcia kept her appointments for the finance committee the same, with Garcia as chairwoman and Bennett as vice chairman. For the audit committee, Garcia appointed Vickers as chairman and Giron as vice chairman. Giron, however, declined the appointment, with Garcia instead appointing Bennett.
The reorganization mirrors the vote that took place in May, with Smith criticizing Garcia for not appointing either Giron or himself to committees.
Smith was later appointed to lead the newly-formed policy committee, which is why Garcia said she didn’t include him in committee appointments this time around.
“We have been excluded again from what I feel is our right as an elected board member, but I have said this all along — just because I am assigned to a committee doesn’t mean I do not have all the rights and access of the people that are,” Smith told the News-Bulletin. “I don’t know why it was done. If it was done for a malicious reason, then that’s unfortunate, but if it was done for any other reason, then I guess I just don’t understand it. The truth is I am going to treat my position like I am on all of the committees.”
Garcia told the News-Bulletin she has put her best foot forward and has done as much as she could to try to include all board members.
“My hope, what I will strive for personally and expect from everybody, is that we be respectful of one another,” Garcia said. “Everybody has experience, everybody has a reason for being there one way or the other, whether it was elected or appointed … all of our voices are equally important and all of us need to treat each other with respect.”
Garcia is the only board member who has been appointed to her seat.
Vickers and Bennett were elected during the last election cycle, and Smith and Giron were reinstated to their seats in May 2022 following a year-long suspension.
When asked about the divisions on the school board, Giron said he felt no tension or contention between board members.
“We have a couple 3-2 votes … I’ve been at the two end of the vote and I’m OK with that. There are three people that believe something else and I respect that,” Giron told the News-Bulletin. “There’s a lot of 5-0 votes … sometimes we’ll vote together and sometimes not, but I will always vote for what I believe is in my heart and wisdom that is for the students, staff and the community.”
Vickers and Bennett disagree, saying they feel the divisions on the board impact the meetings.
“The arguments between board members shouldn’t be occurring in a meeting,” Vickers said. “It should just be everything going through the president of the board, state your opinion on this certain thing and move on instead of attacking each other. I would like to see that change.”
He added while board members argued during meetings, he believes the “personality clashes” don’t affect operations overall in the district, just possibly the public perception of the board.
“In a perfect world, everyone would agree on everything and I understand everyone has their different beliefs and wants to represent their constituents differently,” Bennett said. “… I’m not sure why we aren’t meshing well. I feel there might still be a little bit of — my personal feeling is that Mr. Giron and Mr. Smith might have some resentment against us, but the reality of it is, the three of us had nothing to do with them being removed or put on suspension.”
Smith denies any animosity towards other board members and maintains he has been respectful during meetings.
“I’m not going to cast aside any values that I have to satisfy bitter people. It’s just not going to happen,” Smith told the News-Bulletin. “I am me and other board members are them, and we’re going to have to try to figure out how to work together.
“The stakes are high, the stakes are very high. I don’t have any animosity towards anybody at all. I will not sit here and bash anybody. They vote for the reasons they vote for and if it’s because they truly believe that way, then bravo. If it’s for any other reason, then maybe people need to work on stuff like that.”
While the cause of the divisiveness remains disputed, the path forward is in consensus — respect.
“There should be no confrontations, there should be no name calling, there should be no belittling,” Garcia said. “Everything should be held to the highest standard. I do that for my personal life, I’ve done that in my professional life for the last 15 years. You should be respectful, no matter who is in front of you and that’s how I think this board has to work.”
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.