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Lawmaker gets Mora post

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By David Giuliani

State Rep. Thomas Garcia will be the new superintendent of the Mora school district.

Garcia beat out two other candidates interviewed during a Mora school board meeting Tuesday night. The board unanimously approved Garcia as the new superintendent, with member George Trujillo making the motion.

Garcia, whose District 68 includes Mora County, lives in Las Vegas much of the time but lists his official residence as Ocate, which is in Mora County.

Garcia’s salary as superintendent will be $100,000 a year, which is what his predecessor, Dora Romero, made, said Joseph Griego, the school board’s chairman.

Garcia, a state lawmaker since 2007, had asked for $110,000, Griego said, but the board held firm at $100,000 because of budgetary considerations.

“That’s what we would have offered anyone who was hired,” the chairman said.

As a legislator, Garcia will be away for one or two months each year for the Legislature. But Griego said the district wouldn’t pay Garcia for time he’s away at the Legislature.

Garcia’s hiring is part of a trend of politician-superintendents and college presidents in northeastern New Mexico. Pete Campos, now the president of Luna Community College, was previously the superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools. A former longtime Luna president, Sam Vigil, was also a state representative.

The late state Sen. Ray Leger also served as the West Las Vegas superintendent.

The other finalists for the Mora position were Herman Gallegos, former director of human resources for the Pueblo of Pojoaque, and Norma Cavazos, director of support services for the Pecos schools. Phil Kasper, a principal in the Cortez, Colo., schools, had dropped out as a finalist, reportedly getting a job in Truth of Consequences.

Griego said the main reason he favored Garcia is that he had a solid plan to get all the schools to meet the federal standard known as “adequate yearly progress.” The high school already meets that standard.

“Meeting AYP is a big interest of the board,” Griego said.

Garcia spent three years as a teacher in the Wagon Mound and Springer school districts. For the last dozen years, he has been an instructor at Luna, now teaching history and political science full time. He was also a New Mexico-based aide for U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who is now a U.S. senator.

Garcia is licensed as a schools administrator in New Mexico, but has never held an administrative position in education. He has nearly completed his work for a Ph.D. in history.

Garcia said he wanted to fill the elementary and middle school principal positions with people focused on meeting the federal standard.

“I look forward to working for the Mora school district. I appreciate the confidence the board has placed in me,” Garcia said Thursday morning.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Garcia’s rival, Bengie Regensberg, argued that Garcia wasn’t eligible to represent District 68 because he doesn’t live there.

But Garcia in an interview at the time said that he did own a house in Ocate as well as Las Vegas. He said he had to stay in Las Vegas much of the time because that’s where the jobs are.

Garcia said Thursday that he expected to spend “significantly more” time in Ocate now that he worked in Mora County.

The superintendent’s job became vacant in February, with the resignation of Dora Romero. She had been placed on leave the previous December.

When Romero was placed on leave, Leroy “Huero” Sanchez, a former Luna president, took the reins as acting superintendent. He left on May 30. Since then, Danny Chavez, the high school principal, has been handling the superintendent’s responsibilities.

Romero was placed on leave after Griego had criticized her for spending on such things as leather jackets, meals and hundreds of dollars worth of jerky for area state lawmakers, including Garcia.

Garcia said last year that he accepted the gifts, including a leather jacket, in good faith. He said he saw them as tokens of gratitude for his service in the Legislature.

On Wednesday, Garcia said the district needs to show appreciation for legislators. But he said he wouldn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on gifts.

He said he would sponsor legislative bills that would bring money for Mora school district projects, as he would for any other government entity in his district.

“I would introduce legislation for any constituent,” he said.