Albuquerque Public Schools. Photo courtesy APS

School board elections, much like City Council races, don’t always get the attention they deserve. Sure, school board meetings can be dry for those who don’t have school-aged kids, but school boards are getting a ton of attention lately. Between issues such as parents’ rights, school choice and support for transgender students, school board meetings are really starting to heat up. 

This year’s Albuquerque Public School Board election resulted in mixed results for union backed candidates, but a clear defeat for those backed by the controversial and Hitler quoting Mom’s for Liberty activist group. 

District 1

Incumbent Yolanda Montoya Cordova opted not to run for reelection, opening the door for three candidates vying for the spot. Janelle Astorga scored a sizable win of almost 400 votes over Robert Trujillo, a construction business owner. 

Astorga boasts growing up in historical South Valley neighborhoods and campaigned on restorative justice in schools (see: avoiding suspensions for kids who might just need some extra attention at school), pushing back against institutional racism and making schools safer overall. 

“I do not believe armed police in schools will help any of our district’s issues and more specifically gun violence in our communities,” Astorga wrote in response to a questionnaire from The Paper. “Instead of treating our students like criminals, we need to focus on creating safe spaces for our youth to become leaders and feel ownership of their community. One way we can do this is by bringing in parent volunteers and community organizations to engage students in ‘real-world’ activities.”

Trujillo received endorsements from a sizable list of local politicians and both teachers and labor unions. But that didn’t stop a local parents group from bringing up Trujillo’s record of assault charges and outstanding tax liens. Trujillo, who was somewhat vague about specific policy plans on his campaign website, did offer an explanation that was just shy of an apology. 

“This situation has been hard for me to talk about because I am not proud of my behavior that day, and it does not reflect who I am,” he wrote. “I believe our community deserves total transparency and honesty, and that is why I’m writing this letter.” , who boasts growing up in historical South Valley neighborhoods, campaigned on restorative justice in schools (see: avoiding suspensions for kids who might just need some extra attention at school), pushing back against institutional racism and making schools safer overall. 

Substitute teacher Verland Coker Verland Coker, who opted for a more bare-bones campaign, got less than 10 percent of the votes. He told The Paper. in his questionnaire that he thinks the district is long overdue for “pedagogical reform.”

“Specifically transitioning to a 21st century district,” he wrote. “This is the best way to ensure that students are leaving with the skills they need for a 21st century economy. This transition requires a complete reinvestment in teacher training, school infrastructure, logistical policies and curriculum policies.”

District 2

Though union endorsements didn’t see success in District 1, a union-backed candidate in District 2 took the seat of a long-time incumbent, who’s politics align with Mom’s for Liberty.   

Ronalda Tome-Warito, an education consultant, ousted longtime school board member Peggy Muller-Aragon by more than 250 votes. Tome-Wariot had maybe the hottest take on the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit against the state in one of her answers to the questionnaire from The Paper.: “It’s not Yazzie and Martinez, they are two separate lawsuits. There are misnomers that are greatly affecting these lawsuits: One, Martinez represents Hispanic students and Yazzie, Indigenous students, which are not true statements. The other area of concern is Hispanic students are not represented in the lawsuit and many people thought this population of children were included. My focus will be special education and students with disabilities.”

This was by far the most crowded school board race with the most public attention.
Muller-Aragon’s long list of challengers included teacher and self-proclaimed “watch dog” Adrian Nogales, who has some major issues with sexual topics being discussed in school, except in “high-level classes,” and came short of 20 percent of the votes.

Eric Toledo and Karen Sanchez-Griego, two other candidates, dropped out of the race several weeks ago. 

District 4District 4 just might have been the tamest of all the school board races, but also the one with the most pronounced win. Heather Benavidez, a former staffer in the State Treasurer’s Office and a candidate for the same office, won by more than 60 percentage points against Stephen Cecco, who ran, at least partially, on school choice. Benavidez was the unions’ choice to take over for outgoing board member Barbara Petersen.

Andy Lyman is a veteran New Mexico journalist. He is currently the editor of The Paper.

One reply on “New School Board, Who’s This?”

  1. Cecco was also a Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidate, and the Journal quoted him saying some clueless and nasty things about trans kids. It’s a relief that he lost, and by such a huge margin.

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