CORRECTION: Mandela students, teachers push board for new facility

Oct. 28—Correction appended.

The Santa Fe Board of Education voted Thursday night to table a motion to temporarily disband the committee that reviews and helps plan building projects for the district.

Before the decision, members of the community came forward with concerns that disbanding the committee would halt any progress on building a new facility for Mandela International Magnet School, which allows students to earn an International Baccalaureate diploma.

Over a dozen students, parents and teachers spoke during the public comment period to oppose disbanding the committee and urge the board to ensure the school gets built.

Board President Kate Noble tried to put their fears at ease, promising to continue planning for the new school with the district's new steering committee.

"I think there is some misunderstandings and misinformation, which is also really just breaking my heart a little bit," Noble said. "There was never any implication that a permanent home and stability for Mandela to get what it needs was off the table.

"I really don't know where it came from, but it tells me we've got a hard road ahead in this conversation," she added.

Santa Fe voters elected in 2021 to have the new facility built as part of a $100 million general obligation bond for construction and renovation projects across the district.

Under the bond, the district planned to allocate $22.5 million to build a new home for Mandela.

Since then, the Community Review Committee has been looking into various options for the new facility.

The board's vice president, Sarah Boses, who is on the Community Review Committee, explained that the group was looking at multiple options, including taking over another school, which would displace its students, or going with a project with a price tag that's nearly double the $22.5 million budget.

"There was a consideration of some different options for Mandela, including potentially recommending taking over another school, without engaging that school community, who has not had the chance to understand or organize," Noble said. "That really hit me in the gut, and hit the chairman of the [Community Review Committee] in the gut."

Noble said she introduced the resolution to pause the committee's work to ensure the district works with the community as the new school is planned and gives the committee guidance on the future of the reimagining.

Before the board's discussion, many of the teachers who spoke talked about the issues they dealt with at the Mandela International Magnet School, from faulty air conditioning to rats.

Teacher Sarah Pickering said the temperature in her classroom is sweltering in the summer months and unheated in the winter.

"The end of the school day in August was a brutal time in my class," she said. "I give big credit to the maintenance workers for coming time and time again trying to get my air conditioning to work, but it was hot. And that makes it really hard to learn. And then last week, we come, and the temperature dropped, and it's freezing."

Students, including Mandela International Magnet School senior Ian Olufsen, talked about the school's lack of resources like a theater or kitchen.

"We don't have a theater or an amphitheater or anything of that nature, so every year the theater program has to find a stage that's off campus and then has to pay for it. That costs more money that we don't necessarily have in the budget," he said. "This also prevents us from doing proper music concerts, as we don't have a space that can hold the sound in any way that would make it presentable.

"We don't have any kitchens on-site," he added. "This means that we have to transport food from another school. It gets there later, and it's always in a more deteriorated state than when it was made."

Board members raised concerns about the issues brought up by teachers and students, specifically the temperature of the classrooms.

"I mean, hearing about hands being too cold or classrooms reaching 100 degrees, it's simply not OK for people to have to teach or learn in those environments," Boses said.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario "Larry" Chavez said he was not aware of the issue, but he said the district will look into resolving it as soon as possible.

"That was a surprise to me as well, but we will go back and make sure that they are warm, especially now since the temperatures have dropped," Chavez said.

Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the Santa Fe School Board asked the Community Review Committee to pause facility recommendations. The motion to pause the committee was tabled, and the committee will continue to make recommendations.