By Margaret Hopper
The April 24 Silver School board meeting was expected to be a routine effort with a minimum agenda but in the last hours became quite a different situation. Board members present were Chris Arvidson, Arnold Torres and board president, Trent Petty. Tony Egan arrived in time for closed session.
The 5:00 work session began easily enough with the Jose Barrios Principal, Travis Yurcic, reporting statistics and interesting facts about the elementary school to the members. He included teacher and student numbers, test score results, goals for math and strategies for increased student attendance, parental support and participation, and events of the past year.
In the 6:00 session, a number of persons spoke in the citizens' input sessions asking about the Lougee investigation, whether or not he would be returned, whether the board would hear information in the closed session. Union agent Leslie Fritz of Las Cruces also asked if facts could be presented in closed session, and that all persons should have their say. She pointed out that any issues at Stout school had no input from the union. That had not happened. Other citizens voiced opinions for or against the Lougee position in this input period. All had been limited to three minutes or less.
One mother outlined the ordeal her daughter had gone through for two or three years, following her fears of other students and an illegal weapons carry, because the child and the family could not get a hearing and resolution of the problem through administrative channels before the child reacted, although nothing had materially happened. But the bullying was never ended. She asked that administrators pay more attention to children's problems and get them resolved much faster.
Melanie Harwood, winner of the regional spelling bee, who had a large trophy to show, and who will go to Washington, D.C. at the end of May for the national spelling bee, was introduced to the board.
Petty told the board that there would be retreats in the summer; the first one, in July, would be on team building. This would last a day and a half, likely on a Friday and Saturday.
Under the Consent Agenda, Candy Milam, district financial agent, asked the board to approve a number of items, starting with the March expenses of $2,327,082,21. Some budget adjustments were $29,139.91 for training and recruiting of teachers and principals, a June award of $90,388.25 for K-3 New Mexico Leads to Read Program,
some bus purchase adjustments of $24,227 and $21,331, and a final addition of $6000 for another elementary program. Milam informed the board that repairs were being made to the La Plata roof, and that the past roofer would be doing the new work, starting June 1.
The board approved the expenses and adjustments.
Assistant superintendent and transportation director Gus Benakis asked the board to approve bus contract changes and a return of $20,000, which would be apportioned to the bus owners by number of buses operated. The splits would go toward fuel costs. Approval was granted.
Streib informed the board that after nearly a year of negotiations, mapping, planning and plotting, the last bit of ground swapping between the county and Cliff Schools was final. No funds had changed hands, benefits and lot sizes were considered equal, Cliff had its trade under title, and the county now had that plot of land at the fairgrounds in its possession where it was soon to place another building, 100 feet by 100 feet, on the proper place under the right title. The board gave Streib permission to sign the papers and make this last act official.
The board accepted a motion to go into closed session where personnel issues were to be discussed and the superintendent's contract package would be discussed and finalized.
Some attendees asked to be in the closed session but the board said this could not be.
At the end of the session, some of the issues had been resolved, but the results were not
publicly available then as the closed session was at the end of the meetings. Those who asked why the board would not listen to their personal comments against Lougee were told that on the advice of legal council, members were not responsible for the conduct of any school personnel other than the superintendent, and that the legislative change, made in 2008, stipulated that for board members to listen to these comments would be breaking the law; they could not do that legally. No closed session comments were allowed to the board.
In a later conference with Petty on Friday morning, the Lougee incident was disclosed as nothing illegal, perhaps a call for better interpersonal communications. The investigation was made by two retired law enforcement investigators from Albuquerque, to avoid local bias. After a few days of questioning and much deliberation, the conclusion was that there were no grounds for dismissal, said Petty.
In the follow-up on Friday morning, Petty said he and superintendent Streib had gone to Stout with Lougee for his first day back on the job after the administrative leave period, and a large number of parents and children were on hand to welcome Lougee, giving him a noisy return and hugs on the school grounds.
Petty's final comment was that if local people wanted the board to get information on school staff, they needed to contact their legislators and have the law changed. There was no possibility of that under the present legal codes for school board members.
Regarding the superintendent's contract work, Petty said there was no salary increase, as
finances were tight, but that Streib had agreed to an additional 10 vacation days in the next year in lieu of a raise.
The next board meeting should be held on the third Thursday in May at the usual times, 5:00 p.m. for the work session and 6:00 for the activity session.