Carinos To Take Over District Admin Building: School District Seeks Posada

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Recent photograph of the administration building that the district plans to vacate to allow Carinos to take up residence. Valley Daily Post photo

Carinos To Take Over District Admin Building: School District Seeks Posada

By Robert A. Naranjo

After over a year of legal wrangling between the Espanola Public School District and Carinos de Los Ninos Charter School a judges ruling and subsequent negotiations have resulted in the school district administration deciding to vacate the administration building to allow Carinos to occupy it as their new campus.

This surprising decision is the latest step in an 11-year-old charter school, which has know many ups and downs over the past decade.

Carinos de Los Ninos Charter School (Carinos) began operations in 2005 at San Juan/ Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in space provided by the San Juan Catholic Church when Father Terry Brennan was the pastor there. Fr. Brennan was the main architect and champion of Carinos’ start up. The school Charter explained that the school was intended to provide dual language curriculum, animal husbandry, light farming, and gardening, taught in coordination with the education fundamentals of like reading, writing and arithmetic. This type of curriculum had been used successfully by private schools that incorporated the non-traditional approach to learning that Carinos originally set out to do.

Fr. Brennan and the Carinos board hired Victoria Garcia, a lifelong resident of Abiquiu who had all the experience Carinos needed to start up and carry out its mission. Garcia, however, was in the process of getting her administration degree and accompanying certification to become a principal, but didn’t have it in hand lacking little for its completion. Fr. Brennan and the Carinos board hired her because she had both — experience in teaching, (and close to being a principal,) but she had something most candidates didn’t have, a background in animal husbandry, gardening, etc. Experience that Garcia got right at home in Abiquiu. Fr. Brennan (and the Carinos board) offered Garcia a deal where she would become principal of Carinos and be given five years time to complete the administration part of her education degree according to what Garcia said at that time. She agreed and Carinos became the dual language — one half of the day in English and the other half in Spanish–and the animal husbandry and gardening school almost from the opening bell.

Everything moved along nicely until it came to Carinos giving state tests to its students, as the public schools did. The problem was that Garcia could not certify results of tests because she was not (technically) a principal. Carinos then entered into an agreement with Vernon Jaramillo, who was working at the Espanola Military Academy as a counselor, to assist Garcia at Carinos and to certify testing results as he had the administration credentials needed. It worked and Carinos moved on to its second year and then, third. At about the same time, the Espanola Military Academy was ordered closed by the NM PED (Public Education Dept.) as testing was perennially below where it needed to be and had not shown any improvement. 

Then before you could say Jack Robinson Martinez, Victoria Garcia was out at Carinos and Vernon Jaramillo was in. And with a new title, not principal but “chancellor,” and with a handsome raise included, (from Garcia’s mid 50-60k per year to 75-80k for Jaramillo per year), the state’s media reported at the time. Since Garcia only had a “verbal” contract and a “verbal” promise allowing her to complete her administration degree, she had no legal leg to stand on and it should have ended there. It didn’t. Concerned family and community members cried foul, and began a grassroots campaign to remove Fr. Brennan from San Juan Parish whom they felt had reneged on his promise to Garcia. Letters were written to then Archbishop Michael Sheenan and he ultimately reassigned or removed Fr. Brennan from the San Juan Parish. Garcia went on to complete her administration degree and now is a principal at a New Mexico elementary school. Father Brennan left San Juan and went on a sabbatical out of the U.S., then came back and is now a pastor at a Santa Fe church.

And, Vernon Jaramillo remained Chancellor at Carinos that soon afterward moved. At first the school attempted to occupy the old Bulgogi restaurant site in Santa Cruz and even arranged for portable classrooms to be moved to the site, some of which are still visible from the road. But due to a lack of a proper traffic study the school was unable to occupy the Santa Cruz site so moved to the Espanola Middle School East, the old Espanola High School. Everything seemed fine and Carinos settled in at the old campus. It should be noted that the animal husbandry, farming and gardening segment of its curriculum was abandoned once Garcia left. Carinos did keep its dual language curriculum, however.

Then in September of 2014, state inspectors and the fire marshal inspected the old Middle School building that Carinos was housed in, found numerous problems, and issued a restraining order preventing students from occupying the school. Carinos’ officials said that the building was old and needed work but it wasn’t too bad and had been asking EPS to fix it but the District took no action. By June of 2015, Carinos was on the state’s list for schools that needed to be torn down. It was number seven on the state’s list that the PSCOC (Public Schools Capital Outlay Council) compiled out of a total of 16 that it said needed the wrecking ball.

Carinos looked for space after the Restraining Order to house its students. They relocated first first to El Rito in unused buildings at the NNMC campus there, then ultimately the District put them up at the old Cordova Elementary School which had been vacated to consolidate that elementary with Chimayo. Carinos students were bused by EPS. That seemed cumbersome and then came the legal part of entire affair. Jaramillo, and the Carinos Board filed a tort claim, (intent to sue), and subsequently filed a lawsuit against the Espanola Public Schools and its School Board. Carinos’ primary legal stance was that it had a contract (lease) with EPS until June 2016 and thus the District had to provide space if the original space became unusable, which was the case with the aforementioned Restraining Order. Former EPS Superintendent Trujillo, a little after the Order, attempted to create a case that Carinos was violating compulsory attendance laws by saying publicly that Carinos students were not in school, but Carinos officials countered by saying the students were in school by attending more field trips and other legal means allowed outside the classroom.

EPS Superintendent Gutierrez told the media after the Mar. 3 Board meeting but before they went into Executive Session that the NM PED uses 60 percent as a policy for a new facility or renovation. “If an old building costs more to renovate than 60 percent of the cost of a new building, then it must be torn down completely and rebuilt,” she said. The old Middle School East was apparently past the 60 percent.

But the contract/lease up to June, 2016 was legally binding and the key factor in the case that may not have been considered by former Superintendent Trujillo.  Once the matter became a legal case and heard in court, the judge sided with Carinos and ordered EPS to satisfy the judgment against it which was presumably finding a new school campus for them. After the judge’s ruling, Carinos and EPS began good faith discussions to find a way to diplomatically end the legal wrangling. The discussions between the two entities ended with a Mar. 3, 2016 Joint Statement issued to the media. Exactly what the judge’s ruling directed EPS to do will be released soon, Superintendent Gutierrez stated after the School Board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Mar. 3. She told the media that all the documents related to the case would be made public soon and released the following Joint Statement, that contains a brief description of the agreement reached between Carinos and EPS that moves Carinos into the District’s Administration building and leaves the District staff having to “quit premises” or vacate, leaving them seeking “Posada.” The statement issued by the Carinos de los Ninos Charter School and the Board of Education of the Espanola Public Schools, reads as follows, to wit:

     “March 3, 2016

JOINT STATEMENT ON SETTLEMENT OF LITIGATON

The Board of Education of the Espanola Public Schools and the Governing Body of Carinos de los Ninos Charter School today entered into a settlement agreement to fully and finally resolve litigation between the two entities. Over the last few months, the respective governing bodies have worked together to shift their focus from costly litigation to identifying common ground and solutions to their differences, establishing a positive working relationship between the two entities, and , most importantly , providing greater educational opportunities for students in the Espanola School District . Under the settlement agreement, Carinos Charter School will be permanently relocating to the current site of the Espanola Public Schools Administration Building and property. This settlement preserves the financial resources of both entities, provides a stable and permanent home for Carinos Charter School and returns students and teachers to the halls that at previous times housed Espanola Elementary School, Espanola Junior High School, and Espanola High School.”

The Statement leaves some questions unanswered. For example, “Does the District recover the old Junior High and current EPS Administration building if Carinos closes in the future?” The taxpayers of the District, in this case, lost two buildings: 1.) Espanola Middle School East that fell into total disrepair after Carinos was forced out of the building by state inspectors and the fire marshal during the tenure of the former Superintendent Trujillo. The school, a educational fixture, and part of Espanola’s downtown since the 1930’s, suffered irreparable damage once it was abandoned. 2.) The old “Espanola Junior High or “Hill Jr. High” as some called it, now has to be vacated to house Carinos, a charter school that is public, but now it reports to the state, not EPS.

At the end of the school day, if there’s a silver lining in this legal quagmire cloud, it’s that this case could have become dramatically more expensive to the District and the taxpayers. Moving Carinos to a school building the District just happened to have that was in good shape was comparatively inexpensive compared to building a new school. Imagine if the District would have been ordered to build Carinos a new school. Since  Carinos is a junior high also, the state minimum is 15 acres for a junior high campus, that’s just for starters. The building itself would have been in the neighborhood of $20-40 million. This likely would have happened if the EPS Board, Superintendent Gutierrez, et. al., would have dug in and refused any compromise and let lawyers settle it. They handled this case as best that it could arbitrated. This settlement was equitable for all concerned, and it benefited the children of “Los Carinos de los Ninos Charter School” most of all.

 

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