A teacher union representing Socorro educators asked Socorro Superintendent Ron Hendrix to take corrective action after sending an all staff email about upcoming elections. Hendrix took the action, sending a follow-up email, but says he did nothing wrong.
The union calls the initial email unethical and claims it pressures staff to vote for Hendrix’s preferred candidates.
In an interview Monday morning, Hendrix said he had no plans to take any corrective action. After speaking with the New Mexico School Boards Association Executive Director, Hendrix sent out an all-staff email Monday afternoon clearly stating that employees have the right to vote however they want, and his emails were not meant to tell them how to vote.
Hendrix used his school email to send an all-staff email on Oct. 12 encouraging staff to vote in the upcoming elections for school board and the school bond.
In full Hendrix’s Oct. 12 email reads:
“Early voting started this last week for the school board and the bond election. Please remember to vote on this because it’s going to be crucial to future programs. We are going to need as much support as possible to continue our current path. The board positions up for reelections are James, Pauline, and Sharon. The bond election will not raise taxes because it has been in place for a while. It will help complete the projects on our 5-year master plan. Please talk to everyone you know and encourage them to support our students. The programs and policies we have in place right now are due to the great relationship we have with our school board and their support for what is best for students.”
A letter from American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, signed by AFT New Mexico President Whitney Holland and Executive Vice President Kathy Chavez, says the email “represents undue pressure on Socorro staff to support your preferred candidates.” The AFT letter points out that the email directly links the upcoming election to future funding for ongoing programs in the district.
“You then named each of the current Board members who are up for election this year and strongly imply that their re-election is tied to this ongoing work,” reads the AFT letter.
All of the seats in the school board race are contested.
The letter asked Hendrix to take corrective action by letting Socorro staff know they are free to vote for the candidate of their choice, “without coercion or the implication that program funding is contingent on electing certain candidates to the Socorro Board of Education.”
AFT New Mexico represents staff in the district who are not in a supervisor position, including teachers, bus drivers and custodians.
Hendrix confirmed the email names his preferred candidates, the incumbents in the school board race, but he does not think the email constitutes pressure to vote for certain candidates. Hendrix believes a group of union members at the high school complained about the email because of the contentious relationship he’s had with them since he began his tenure as superintendent in 2017.
“I feel like it’s all politics around this school board election. There’s a group at the high school that wants to get rid of me and this is part of that,” said Hendrix.
Still he sent out the requested message via another all-staff email on Monday that employees have the right to decide who they want to vote for.
Holland said the union sent the letter because a few district employees have reached out concerned that the superintendent was endorsing candidates in his official capacity.
“The only reason we stepped in is because it was about the candidates,” she said. “I think saying ‘support the bond’ is the right choice, appropriate. Move forward doing that, but using your role, especially as superintendent, head honcho, head boss, it’s just not okay.”
There were two other communications that staff members contacted the union about: a pamphlet encouraging support for the school bond which includes a photo of the school board on the back above text about the school district being good stewards of money, and an email from Hendrix informing staff members that they would soon receive their $5,000 retention payment checks.
The second email, sent Oct. 20, does not directly reference the upcoming election. The majority of the email discusses the logistics of receiving and cashing retention payment checks. However, it does say “I’m so proud of our board that they care enough about our staff that they would approve these payments. Please remember how much they support and care about you all.”
Hendrix bolded and underlined these two sentences. Hendrix said he mentioned the school board in the email because they voted to support the retention payments.
“It made staff uncomfortable, whether or not they supported those candidates,” said Holland. “It made them feel like if I want a raise ever again, I have to vote for these people and that put them in an awkward position.”