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Editorial: Full time, no conflicts

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By The Staff

Congratulations to state Rep. Thomas Garcia for being hired as superintendent of the Mora school district. The district needs a strong leader who will get its finances back in order and push all schools to meet the federal standard of adequate yearly progress. (Mora High School, to its credit, already makes the grade.)

Unfortunately, the superintendent’s position has been a revolving door in recent years. We hope Garcia succeeds and stays.

As a state representative, however, he should now resign.

That’s not an unfair position to take, given that the district will be giving Garcia a handsome $100,000 a year. But more important, the district needs a full-time working superintendent, not an absentee one, especially in light of the fact that the state auditor issued a critical report of Mora’s finances last year.

Moreover, we continue to see a very real conflict of interest in having state lawmakers also running school systems. We didn’t agree with it when state Sen. Pete Campos was running the Las Vegas City Schools district, nor did we approve when he took over the president’s position at Luna Community College. It’s nothing personal: We just don’t think any lawmaker should also head a public college or school system.

The state Legislature spends most of its money on public education, and schools get most of their funding from state government, so the conflict of interest is obvious. The most blatant example is that, as a state rep, Garcia will have a hand in managing the money that pays his Mora salary.

Of course, we have made this point repeatedly through the years, but to no avail. The state attorney general’s office, years ago, essentially put the issue to bed by declaring that such dual roles are legally OK, and Garcia will be just one more school superintendent/lawmaker in a long line of such officials through the years. But in Garcia’s case, there’s the added ingredient that Mora will need his conflict-free and undivided attention.

As a state representative, Garcia will be gone from Mora for months at a time during legislative sessions. We don’t think that will be fair to the Mora school district’s patrons, who need a full-time leader.

 Still, we have no illusions that Garcia will resign. Nor will the school board want him to. Unfortunately, there seems to be a perception that he’ll be able to use his role as a powerful politician to get more at the Santa Fe trough. Again, there’s that obvious conflict of interest, with the usual twist — those in authority at Mora hope he’ll be able to bring home more bacon because of his position in the Roundhouse.

But what if he did resign as state representative to devote himself full time to running the Mora district? What would that say to the parents and children who will be counting on him to lead their schools? We think it would say a lot about his integrity, as well as his commitment to making those schools the best they can be.

That’s why we keep tilting at this windmill. We’d love to see someone like Garcia take a stand for the greater good. Here’s hoping against hope.