`High hopes’ for takeover

By John Sena: The New Mexican

Hundreds of College of Santa Fe supporters packed the Capitol Rotunda for a rally Tuesday afternoon hoping their voices would sway legislators to approve a state takeover of the school.

Various attempts to stabilize finances and increase enrollment at the school have failed, and partnership talks with two other institutions fell through.

The Board of Regents of New Mexico Highlands University has already approved a takeover bid, but any state university interested will need approval and money from the Legislature.

A bill, HB577, introduced last week by Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, sets the stage for a state takeover. It outlines the requirements for any suitor, which include providing plans for a budget, programs, enrollment and revenue. It does not include appropriations.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is the most important thing that has come before me in my 24 years since I’ve been in the Legislature,” Varela, a CSF graduate, said to thunderous applause.

Varela said he spoke to Gov. Bill Richardson on Tuesday morning and that Richardson had expressed his support for the legislation. He urged the crowd to contact legislators or Richardson to voice their support for the takeover.

“I am delighted that we have such a wonderful showing,” CSF President Stuart Kirk told the crowd.

Kirk, along with CSF Board of Trustees President David Chase and Highlands President Jim Fries voiced their support for legislation.

Kirk said legislators should save the college not because of its history or its faculty or students, but because the school contributes economically and culturally. “This is critical to Santa Fe,” he said. “This is critical to the state.”

The college bused students to the Capitol beginning Tuesday morning until 2 p.m. for the scheduled rally.

Throughout the day, faculty and students of CSF and New Mexico Highlands University — Highlands is the only school to publicly express interest in taking over the college — staffed tables displaying the features of each school’s programs.

Nicole Macon, a CSF freshman from New Orleans, said she chose to attend the school because of its creative-writing program. Saving the college, she said, might cost money, but it is a long-term investment.

“This is the only school I have right now,” said John O’Connor, a freshman from Breckenridge, Colo., who showed up to rally wearing a red wig and goggles on his head. “I don’t really know what I’m going to do (if it closes).”

Christopher Brockett, a freshman from Austin, Texas, said that while the mood has been tense at the school, staff and students are trying to stay positive. “Everybody has high hopes,” Brockett said.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.

Varela acknowledged there are legislators who are hesitant to fund any new programs, the takeover included, during a budget deficit.

But, he said, if Richardson and the Santa Fe delegation is behind it, the takeover has a chance.

And the opportunity to make the college more affordable for students in New Mexico should not be passed up, he said. “We have to sacrifice sometimes to provide for our children.”

Contact John Sena at 986-3079 or jsena@sfnewmexican.com.