ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – School boards across the state have never been more visible. The pandemic has forced them to answer questions on whether to go to a hybrid schedule. Albuquerque Public Schools’ decision to stay remote has some parents deciding it’s time to run for a school board seat.

School board elections will now be on the same ballot as mayoral elections, which could lead to more people voting. In the past, school board elections have had very low voter turnout, but with COVID-19 and the re-entry plan top-of-mind for many, this year’s election could see big numbers — and big spending to run.

“Turnout on school board elections is very, very low. Always single digits,” said Gabe Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor. “Typically sees 3% or 4%, so you’re really talking about a very small segment of the voter eligible population that takes advantage to voice their opinion on who should be on the school board.”

It’s the same for APS — seeing as low as 6,000 votes in 2015 — and as many as 28,000 in 2019. This year, a spotlight on the APS Board of Education means more people could vote and run for the four open seats. The seats up this fall include Lorenzo Garcia in District 3, Candelaria Patterson in District 5, Elizabeth Armijo in District 6 and board president Dr. David Peercy in District 7.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there’s going to be more interest in running for the school board than there has in the past. It’s also going to be more expensive than it has in the past,” said Marty Esquivel, a former school board member. “The cost when you’re reaching, when you have to reach more voters, the cost is going to go up four or five times.”

Esquivel served on the APS board for years. He says the costs to reach more voters can mean big bucks thrown in the race — as much as $40,000 in some races. APS parent Crystal Franco is running for Armijo’s seat in District 6. She says board members need to be more proactive. “I think it’s important for APS board members to see this first-hand and to experience how it’s actually affecting kids,” said Franco. “This is about long term and we need to make sure that if anything happens like this again, there are no excuses. There is a plan in place moving forward.”

Another APS parent, Courtney Jackson, is running for Dr. Peercy’s seat in District 7. She thinks parents need to be on the board to give a voice to their kids. “Nobody is speaking up for them, nobody is listening to them and they asked me if I would do this because they need somebody who is going to speak for the kids. They feel like they’re being ignored through all of these decisions,” said Jackson. “This is just the latest instance of them putting the interests of other people ahead of the children. As a parent, we are the ones that have skin in the game, we are the ones who are at home with our kids and see how they’re suffering, and we are the ones that naturally want to put our kids first.”

This is the first time running for public office for both Jackson and Franco. Jackson has officially filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State, while Franco says she hasn’t filed yet but plans to. The deadline to file is Aug. 24.

Both Peercy and Armijo voted to send APS to hybrid learning. We reached out to both board members to see if they plan to run again this fall. Dr. Peercy declined to comment but said, “always welcome community interest in being a board member.” Armijo provided the following statement:

“I’m excited to see community members wanting to get involved with the school board elections and their schools. I also was an APS parent of two, when I ran against 5 people in District 6.

It’s also encouraging to know people are interested in public education and that they have a genuine interest in improving schools and understanding a district’s policies, challenges, and strengths.”