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WED: Superintendents sue the state and education secretary over extending the school year, + More

New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Dr. Arsenio Romero
New Mexico in Focus
New Mexico PBS
New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Arsenio Romero

School superintendents sue the state over extending the school year - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Dozens of New Mexico school superintendents are suing the state over extending the school year.

Last month, the state Public Education Department moved forward with requiring a 180-day school year despite pushback from school staff and lawmakers.

Now, as the Santa Fe New Mexican reports, more than 50 superintendents and their professional association have filed suit against the agency and its secretary, Arsenio Romero. The court battle comes as school districts draft budgets and calendars to comply with the new rule.

Santa Fe Public Schools is one of the plaintiffs. At a recent school board meeting there, members called the mandate “unfunded,” saying it would stress next year’s budget.

All judges in the 9th Judicial District where the suit was filed have recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. So, the state Supreme Court will need to assign a judge to oversee the case.

Progressives going after incumbents in hot Democratic primaries - By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Depth

It’s a safe bet Democrats will barrel into 2025 with their supremacy intact at the New Mexico Legislature. Barring an unexpected shock during this year’s elections, Democrats’ stranglehold on power is assured.

Going into the 2024 contests, Democrats control nearly two-thirds of all seats in the House and nearly three of every five seats in the Senate.

The question going into the June primary election is whether the party’s progressive wing will continue to increase power in the Legislature or will more centrist Democrats hold ground.

This year’s effort by progressives is the latest in a long standing campaign, stretching back to the mid-2000s, to bring more progressives into the Legislature. In 2008, progressives successfully replaced a slate of centrist Democrats with newly minted candidates who are now political veterans, including the launch of current Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s political career, who joined the Senate that year.

Because of this one-party dominance, the ideological fault lines within the Democratic Party have major policy implications on abortion, the environment, education and workplace issues like minimum wage and paid family and medical leave benefits.

Progressive political candidates and committees have raised tens of thousands of dollars for bids to oust certain Democratic legislators in June’s primary election.

New Mexico’s progressive political machine was buoyed dramatically in 2020 when insurgents unseated long-time Democratic incumbents viewed as more centrist or right of center.

The first campaign finance reports filed April 8 show progressive insurgents amassing thousands in contributions from individuals. And the efforts of progressive independent expenditure committees will undoubtedly benefit their campaigns.

Incumbents hold an advantage in corporate money, with energy, healthcare and hospitality interests giving big. They also enjoy support from their own colleagues in the Legislature; House Speaker Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, despite policy disagreements with more conservative incumbents, pledged to back his fellow lawmakers facing intraparty challenges.

Tim Krebs, a University of New Mexico political science professor, said Democratic incumbents who buck the progressive agenda have braced themselves for challenges from the party’s left flank since the 2020 elections.

“We had that moment in time where John Arthur Smith and other conservative Democrats in the state and on the senate side were ousted from office,” Krebs said. “…you’ve got sort of liberal interest groups that want to support the Democratic Party and they want to flip seats in their direction. So they recruit candidates who can do that and challenge candidates who aren’t toeing the progressive line.”

A handful of top Senate Democrats with decades of legislative experience were toppled in the 2020 primary by insurgents angered by their votes against an effort to wipe away a dormant abortion criminalization law that predated the 1970s Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The following year, Democrats successfully eliminated the law.

Shown the door were former Senate Finance Committee Chair John Arthur Smith of Deming — a three-decade veteran known as “Dr. No” for his fiscal conservatism who voted against rescinding the old abortion criminalization law — as were Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen, and senators Clemente Sanchez and Gabriel Ramos.

A progressive political action committee (PAC), Better Future for New Mexico, raised significant money in 2020, and is back in action this year. In its first primary election filing, the group reported raising just $7,750 from four donors, but began the year with more than $330,000 in the bank and has demonstrated in past elections it can raise considerable amounts.

Better Future has been largely funded by out-of-state special interest groups, philanthropists, business executives and attorneys. It in turn funneled money to New Mexico-based groups to run political campaigns, a prime example of the phenomenon of “gray money” in which PACs give to PACs, who then give to other PACs, making it difficult to find out where the money comes from.

Nick Voges, a consultant for the committee, said it supports other nonprofit groups or PACs aligned with its values. Voges said those values include protecting reproductive healthcare and gender equity; advancing “worker and people-centric policies” such as paid family and medical leave; protecting the environment; and gun safety laws.

“The policies that are important to Better Future New Mexico and the independent community organizations that we work with are broadly supported by many New Mexicans and transcend political labels,” Voges said in an interview.

Olé, a progressive New Mexico-based membership organization that runs political campaigns, is one group that receives money from Better Future.

The group since 2009 has worked on issues such as immigration, abortion access, wages, housing and other causes. Its volunteer membership is currently vetting candidates to endorse for the primary cycle, said Executive Director Andrea Serrano.

Serrano said Olé, which stands for Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, has helped elect state and municipal candidates who voted for minimum wage hikes, payday loan caps and abortion access protections.

Top of mind for its members is the failure by two votes of the Paid Family Medical Leave Actduring this year’s legislative session, Serrano said.

“ … [W]hen there are lawmakers who are beholden to wealthy corporations, they are going to make bad choices that are going to harm New Mexicans,” Serrano said.

The profiles of a candidate’s donors can matter in races. In District 70 in northern New Mexico, a progressive candidate is attacking an incumbent for taking corporate contributions. The incumbent says such contributions are unavoidable for a candidate who wants to win elections.

Anita Gonzales, deputy director of the Las Vegas educational nonprofit New Mexico Mesa, Inc., is trying to unseat two-term incumbent Ambrose Castellano, who voted against the paid family medical leave act this year.

It is her third attempt to beat Castellano. Inboth previous elections, Gonzales lost by fewer than 100 votes

This time around, she has a rare primary election endorsement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Almost all of the $31,000 raised by Gonzales came from individual contributions according to the Secretary of State’s data, except for $8,000 in March, which the governor gave her.

She received $2,000 from the Karen F Grove Trust. Karen Grove is the chair of the Grove Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in California that reported $94 million in assets in 2022. A spokesperson for the foundation noted that the trust is separate from the foundation. An affiliated organization, the Grove Action Fund, a 501(c)4 organization, has funded Better Future in recent years with a large donation.

Gonzales said the governor’s endorsement means a lot to her but it doesn’t mean she will be duty-bound to Lujan Grisham’s agenda in cases where they may disagree, noting she’s running a grassroots campaign.

“A majority of the campaign donations thus far are individuals — they are people that just are working to support me — in contrast to my incumbent who has had mostly corporate donations,” she said.

Asked if the campaign would go negative, Neri Holguin, who is consulting for Gonzales, said, “We’re running against an incumbent and we’re making a case for why we think voters should fire him and hire Anita.”

Holguin sent out an email April 16 announcing an ethics complaint had been filed with the State Ethics Commission alleging Castellano has misspent campaign funds for personal use over the past several years.

“I’m not surprised to learn of this,” Castellano wrote to New Mexico In Depth in a text. “I welcome a fair and legal process but believe my campaign is in compliance with laws and regulation.”

Castellano, who works in construction, suggested Gonzales may be beholden to the governor’s agenda and pitched himself as an “independent voice” who will work to moderate urban progressive policies.

For instance, Castellano said that while he favors paid family and medical leave as a policy, he did not support the 2024 bill because he would have preferred an initial opt-in program for employers before forcing them to pay into a fund. He cited businesses still suffering from the 2022 wildfires that ripped through parts of the district.

“Obviously, you know, I’m not a progressive; I’m a moderate Democrat. I don’t support a lot of bills that hurt small businesses or harm rural communities,” he said.

Of the $48,500 raised by Castellano since last October, 80% comes from corporations, trade associations and lobbyists. Major corporations donating to his campaign include AT&T, Lovelace Health System, Pfizer, Altria; Anheuser Busch; Core Civic; BNSF Railway Co.; UnitedHealth Group and others, according to his campaign report. House Speaker Javier Martinez, who did not return a call for comment, gave Castellano $5,500 and endorsed his legislative colleague.

Castellano said that he has “gained the respect” of corporations participating in the legislative process because they know he will have a discussion with them about the issues. That does not mean he is indebted to them, he said, citing a vote to increase by 5% oil leasing royalty rates on state land.

Castellano also argued that corporate money is unavoidable for incumbents.

“What’s the difference between the governor’s PAC, which gets money from out of state, or any other legislator that gets money from out of state?” he said. “ I’m no different.”

Krebs, the University of New Mexico professor, said that often, progressive challengers have successfully attacked an incumbent’s donor base, especially if the money comes from outside the district or state. But it is rare for a challenger to reject those same contributions once in office.

“Is she going to say, ‘No I’m not going to take that money?’” Krebs asked if Gonzales wins.

Gonzales said any corporate money she takes would have to align with her values. For instance, Marathon Oil donated $5,000 to Castellano in November. Gonzales said she would reject a contribution from Marathon Oil, and pledged to reject campaign contributions from all oil and gas companies. The same is true for payday loan companies, she said.

But not all corporate contributions are bad, she said. Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy pitched in $1,000 to Castellano’s campaign in June. NextEra is one of the largest renewable energy developers in the U.S. — and it has projects in New Mexico. Gonzales said she would consider taking a contribution from the Juno Beach, Fla.-based company.

“The way our system is, in order to afford campaigns you do need dollars,” Gonzales said.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Grove Action Fund, not the Grove Foundation, gave a large donation to Better Future New Mexico in recent years.

Location for Doña Ana Co. reproductive health center expected to be announced next month - Leah Romero, Source New Mexico 

The location for New Mexico’s $10 million reproductive health clinic in Doña Ana is slowly getting closer to a public announcement.

Dr. Eve Espey, an instrumental organizer in the project, said the different groups involved are in the final stages of vetting properties and deciding on a location in the county in Southern New Mexico. She said she anticipates an announcement within the next month.

“We are very close,” Espey said. “I think we’ll be able to talk about it in two to three weeks.”

The project was initially announced to the public by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham through an executive order in August 2022. She said it is a way to increase access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion services.

Espey, chair of the University of New Mexico’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, represents UNM Health Sciences Center, one of the four planning organizations on the project that also includes Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Bold Futures and Strong Families New Mexico.

The university’s health sciences center is acting as the local fiscal agent to spend $10 million appropriated in 2023 by the state legislature through a capital outlay bill.

Bold Futures Executive Director Charlene Bencomo added that “tangible progress” has been made in securing a location.

Espey said the group hopes to break ground this summer and is working to meet that goal, a timeline the governor’s office said it is aiming for in an email with Source New Mexico several weeks ago.

On Monday, Lujan Grisham spokesperson Michael Coleman affirmed the project remains a priority for the governor’s office

“Gov. Lujan Grisham is determined to expand reproductive health care options in New Mexico, and the Dona Ana County clinic is an integral part of this effort,” Coleman said.

Espey said project updates were sparse this past year because organizers are tasked with building a new model that required work between multiple agencies. On top of that, funding moves slowly between multiple government channels.

She said much of that work is finished.

“I would say that given the pace of bureaucracies, things have actually happened at a very rapid pace,” she said. “We can expect the pace to pick up very quickly at this point.”


Espey explained that the creation of a clinic began with a grant application to the Collaborative for Gender + Reproductive Equity. UNM Health Sciences, Bold Futures and Strong Families wanted to identify where a reproductive health clinic could reduce inequalities. Doña Ana, McKinley and Santa Fe counties were the three areas their study determined resources should be targeted to consider a new clinic.

“I think it was the combination of the community perspectives, the economic feasibility, the demographics that ultimately landed us on Doña Ana County,” Espey said. “In retrospect, that seems super obvious because of what’s going on in Texas, but that was actually not the case when we started the project.”

Espey said reproductive health deserts still exist and create further need for services in the state, and additional clinics in McKinley and Santa Fe counties are still possibilities.

Lujan Grisham’s executive order brought the state into the mix, established initial funding and allowed the four groups to collaborate on the new facility in Doña Ana County.


While work on choosing a location is the major focus right now, Espey said work continues simultaneously on finding an architect to contract with, developing a staffing plan and an advisory board.

Bencomo told Source New Mexico several months ago that she predicted the clinic taking another two years before it is open to patients. Espey said the prediction is reasonable, but organizers are also working “to shorten that timeline as much as possible.”

As for funding, the $10 million appropriation was made solely for construction of the clinic. Espey said organizers are developing a business plan for the clinic, but they anticipate needing more monetary support to ensure the clinic continues to operate once open.

“We would love to propose that to the legislature and also to private foundations and other funders,” she said.

Reps. Stansbury and Vasquez celebrate $16.3M in homelessness funding - Damon Scott, City Desk ABQ 

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

More than a dozen nonprofit and city leaders who work in homelessness and housing services across the state met in Albuquerque on Tuesday to mark an infusion of $16.3 million in federal funds for its programs.

A roundtable event at Cuidando Los Niños featured U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Gabe Vasquez, part of the New Mexico delegation in Congress who helped secure the funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). New Mexico’s share was part of a total $3.16 billion funded nationwide — the largest-ever amount in HUD “Continuum of Care Program” dollars, first announced in February.

“[Homelessness is] one of the most critical issues facing New Mexicans and the country,” Vasquez said. “Homelessness and the unhoused is not an easy issue, but today we’re here at a place that specifically takes care of the most vulnerable population — the young people that are impacted.”

The Cuidando Los Niños campus, located at 1500 Walter St. SE, provides daytime services to 55 homeless children and their parents — mostly mothers who are fleeing from domestic violence. The group, which has an 80-family waiting list, received $229,048 of the funds.

“I can’t think of a more important issue to work on than housing,” Stansbury said. “For me, housing is a human right; housing is infrastructure; housing is core to ensuring that our families and communities have opportunity.”

Stansbury said she experienced homelessness when she was in middle school after her mother lost her job as a contract seamstress after breaking her leg in an accident. The family subsequently lost their home and lived in a tent for a summer in a family friend’s backyard.

“I remember I only had two sets of clothes,” Stansbury said. “One of the little boys in one of my classes came up to me and punched me and said: ‘You don’t have any other clothes? You come to school in the same clothes every day?’ I’m now a 45-year-old woman and that story still breaks my heart.”

Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico was one of 26 statewide organizations that received a portion of the HUD funding — about $1.1 million. The nonprofit offers permanent supportive housing and rapid rehousing programs.

“I’m excited because I know that this money is going to change people’s lives,” Andy Najar, a Catholic Charities associate director, said.

Najar, who said he’s been working in the field for 25 years, lauded his colleagues for working in a profession that’s “hard” and “tough.”

“You’re all a bunch of angels for doing it because I know it’s crazy,” he said.

Debbie Johnson, the founder and CEO of TenderLove Community Center in Albuquerque, which received $375,422, said the group’s mission is to reduce poverty, social exclusion and homelessness.

“I don’t see the homeless,” she said. “I see future leaders. I see future government officials. We help them from where they are, and set goals to where they want to see themselves in one year, two years, six years.”

Johnson said most of her staff have formerly experienced homelessness and used TenderLove’s services. She said one of the most pressing issues among homelessness providers is ever-growing waiting lists, and appealed to Stansbury and Vasquez to continue to press for more funding for the state.

“Please see what you can do so we can eradicate the long waiting lists,” Johnson said. “About six years ago, one of my clients living in poverty wanted to commit suicide because she was waiting to be called for housing and it was taking too long.”


  • City of Albuquerque: $3,591,847
  • New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness: $1,434,735 
  • Youth Shelters & Family Services: $1,165,192
  • Mesilla Valley Community of Hope: $1,125,523
  • Catholic Charities: $1,067,213
  • The Life Link: $953,769
  • La Casa Inc.: $940,816
  • Battered Families Services Inc.: $632,625
  • DreamTree Project Inc.: $628,833
  • Supportive Housing Coalition of New Mexico: $610,902
  • Valencia Shelter Services: $498,370
  • Saint Elizabeth Shelter Corp.: $382,677 
  • TenderLove Community Center: $375,422
  • Sandoval County: $372,924
  • Santa Fe Community Housing Trust: $340,617
  • High Desert Housing: $325,516
  • El Camino Real Housing Authority: $325,276
  • San Juan County Partnership: $269,676
  • Supporting People In Need (SPIN): $237,479
  • Cuidando Los Niños: $229,048
  • Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless: $163,211
  • San Juan Safe Communities Initiative Inc.: $158,403
  • Community Against Violence Inc.: $139,702
  • El Refugio Inc.: $128,661
  • Casa Milagro Inc.: $121,063
  • Abode Inc.: $53,915

New Mexico reaches settlement in 2017 wage-theft complaint after prolonged legal battle - Associated Press

New Mexico labor regulators on Tuesday announced a legal settlement that resolves longstanding accusations of unpaid wages against a restaurant business in northwestern New Mexico.

The Workforce Solutions Department said in a news release that 505 Burgers Farmington LLC has agreed to pay out $100,000 to resolve claims by two former employees that they received only a small portion of the wages they were due for more than 3,000 hours of work, including overtime.

The settlement resolves a complaint originally filed in 2017 by Francisco and Sandra Olivas with the state labor relations division that wound its way through an administrative investigation before going to trial in 2022. The New Mexico Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by the employer before a final settlement was reached.

505 Burgers owner Morgan Newsom declined to comment on the settlement when contacted Tuesday.

Workforce Solutions Secretary Sarita Nair said her agency strives to provide education and training to businesses to ensure employees are paid fairly.

"But when prevention does not work, our capable team will pursue these cases for workers, no matter how long it takes," she said in a statement.

New Mexico workplace regulators have struggled in the past to keep pace with complaints of alleged wage theft linked to enforcement of the state's minimum wage law.

The state labor relations division said it collected more than $689,000 during the 12-month period ending in June 2023 for New Mexico workers claiming underpayment or nonpayment of wages. Most of the complaints have raised allegations of unpaid overtime, failure to pay minimum wage and an employer withholding a final paycheck.