Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Teachers union president faces challenger in election

Ellen Bernstein, President, Albuquerque Teachers Federation talks about a program in January 2019 in Albuquerque. (Greg Sorber/)

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein has only run opposed in elections for her position three times in her 22-year tenure at the helm of the union.

But for the second time in six years, she’s facing a challenger in social studies teacher Adrian Nogales. Nogales said he wants to apply more checks and balances on a union that he said “hasn’t had really any since 1999.”

“You have the same people negotiating the contract every year,” he said, adding that those negotiations aren’t being done in the “best interest” of those working in education.

Bernstein cited her more than two decades in advocating for the educators the union represents. Members currently number over 4,000, she said. She also pledged to work to restore the public education field as educators, administrators and students “emerge from the challenges” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adrian Nogales, a social studies teacher at Garfield STEM School, poses at Washington Middle School. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Nogales)

Born and raised in Albuquerque, Nogales said he’s “walked a mile in many educators’ shoes.” He taught at Washington and Garfield STEM middle schools and George I. Sanchez Collaborative Community School in various roles, including as a special education teacher.

“I’m here to fight for all the educators that are being underpaid, and who are being overworked,” he said. “I just really want to advance our children and advance our teachers.”

A major item on Nogales’ agenda is improving health and safety in Albuquerque Public Schools, especially when it comes to pandemic procedures. He also hopes to address the number of teachers “heading for the door in droves,” despite this year’s pay raises from the state.

Many, he said, have left after APS’ recent shuffling of staff and position cuts. He was one of the educators in their ranks, as he’s been moved to Tres Volcanes Community Collaborative School to teach next year.

During a debate April 20, Nogales said he found out he wasn’t given a full distribution list of union members to send campaign materials to. Election staff acknowledged the error three days out from the start of online voting, he said. After they did Nogales said he fired off a mass email to several schools calling it out. Union bylaws state that district email domains and servers “may not be used for campaign purposes.” Nogales said sending the emails was “absolutely not” a violation, and saw it as defending himself from bylaw violations by election staff.

Bernstein, who served as a teacher for 17 years before being elected union president in 1999, only hopes to continue her work.

“Everything I do all day, every day, is advocacy for individuals,” she said.

She said she was a union activist throughout her teaching career. Before she was elected president, Bernstein said, she spent 15 years as a representative and moved from union secretary to vice president.

Recent accomplishments Bernstein noted include working with Rep. Debbie Sariñana, D-Albuquerque on a bill expanding the state’s paid teacher residency program. That work, she said, was done to “attract really high-caliber candidates to become teachers.”

She also cited her record of advocating for equal salaries between teachers and other licensed educators since the implementation of the state’s three-tiered license system. So far, Bernstein said the union has had a positive record on that front, calling it a “bread- and-butter” issue for the union.

“Incredible energy has been spent to increase our political presence and therefore, our voice,” Bernstein said in a statement. “We must work to restore our profession and help rebuild our communities. I’m ready for that work. I have never stopped believing in the power of our collective voices.”

Online voting for the race opened at noon Sunday, and closed at 5 pm Tuesday. Counting will begin at 4:30 pm Wednesday, or after school lets out.

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