By Mary Alice Murphy
After the work session, with the board room already filled with people, Silver Consolidated Schools Board Chairman Trent Petty announced the board would allow a half hour at the beginning of the meeting and a half hour at the end for people to speak for a maximum of three minutes each.
About 75 people filled the room to capacity, with another 50 or more in the lobby and outside. Silver City Fire Marshal Milo Lambert kept the number inside to about the allowable amount by fire code, while three Silver City police officers stood guard in the lobby.
The regular meeting began at 6:01, with Chairman Trent Petty opening the Citizen's Inquiries section to be limited to one half hour at the beginning of the meeting.
Jessica Osuna was the first to speak. "I have worked at Stout (Elementary) for 12 years. I'm concerned about the non-renewal of two employees, especially the special ed teacher Ms. Sosa. She is very flexible and works around us with professionalism. The parents are pleased, too."
When she began giving details of Ms. Sosa's evaluations, Superintendent Lon Streib stopped her and said evaluations were restricted personnel information, and she could not give out that information, and the attorney, who was present, added, unless she had presented a signed release from the person, which Osuna had not.
Osuna said Sosa is a native of Silver City, with her grandfather having been mayor, and her mom was a teacher. The other employee mentioned was Jillian Sherwood, who had been at Stout for two years and had been evaluated highly, also.
"Sherwood comes to school early and leaves late, giving everything to the students," Osuna said. "She even took it upon herself to mentor a new teacher. These are caring and patient teachers. Both have vested interests in the community. Why get rid of two effective teachers, when it is the students and parents who will lose. I request reconsideration."
Esther Jamison, a teacher from the UK, who is an employee at the Juvenile Probation Office in the Restorative Justice program, said she wants to bring restorative practices into the schools. The practices show those in authority how to interact with students rather than doing things for students. "I would like to provide mediation if there is a conflict, such as bullying," Jamison said. "I have referral forms to give to school officials to fill out and give to JPO. As an independent contractor, I would have to have parental permission."
Superintendent Lon Streib asked her to pass the form on to him. "During the our strategic planning, we talked about the form and the administrators felt it would be better to have individual consent rather than blanket consent."
Jamison said she already has cooperation with the high school administrators.
Debra Villalba said she came to the meeting with a "heavy heart. I felt obligated as a senior staff member at Stout to tell you we are struggling. I've been in the position to lose a job, but this is snowballing. We can't have it happen anymore. We have to treat people with respect." She was crying throughout much of her presentation, and although she was speaking to the board at its request, many of her comments were addressed to those in the room. "You can't be putting names in social media. I refuse to be part of the negativity. We teach our kids to be respectful, and we're not acting like role models. Remember there are two sides to every story. We need to keep our dignity. Do you want people to dig up your past?" "Directly to board members, she said: "I love interacting with kids. They visit my class to see the bunnies. One kid told his mother that you wanted to get Mr. Lougee fired. We need to show the community that the glass is half-full in Silver City."
Sylvia Mendez-Lopez said she is the mother of two sons at José Barrios. She spoke loudly and angrily. "You conspired to have my husband arrested because you would not consider our allegations of bullying by his teacher. This was a total abuse of administrative process. You are all guilty of misusing your positions to take total control. You are liars and corrupt officials. We will not rest until the abusers whom you protect, including yourselves, are removed."
George Rubelmann, asked: "If the school district has a zero tolerance policy against bullying, why only against the children?"
Angie Light said her son is in Ms. Sosa's class. "I am concerned bout how things have worked out. Ms. Sosa is an excellent teacher. However, I see one side as more trustworthy and honorable. The children were saying: 'Don't go, Ms. Sosa.' When I found out she stood up against ill remarks, I was proud of her. If the remarks come from students, I can forgive them, but not from adults. I asked Mr. Lougee why he let her go, and he told me he tried to resolve the problem. When I went back to her, she said she didn't know what needed to be resolved."
Ben Duran said he has been at Stout since "I went there myself. I continued my education here. My sons went there. Stout is home to me. Teachers' rights are being stripped away, being systematically taken away by the emphasis on testing." He said the teachers are trying to stand up for their students, but "the culture is belittling us. When teachers spoke up, we were retaliated against. I want to move the teachers and the students along the Bell curve, but we were retaliated against. It is wrong, It is wrong, It is wrong."
Linda Nichols said: "As we face the crisis, what matters? It is the students who matter. What kind of background check was done on the superintendent? I ask that one question of you and the past two school boards."
Petty said he would address it later in the meeting.
Jessica Villegas said she is the parent of an 11-year-old student. "She got sent to the principal's office as one of three girls. She was the victim and was being bullied, but the principal took away all her privileges and laughed to me that 'he went on a rampage with your daughter.' I said it wasn't funny, and that I would go to the superintendent. He asked me what I told him. I told him she told the principal that she didn't want to fight, so they were bullying her. She's never tardy. She's on the honor roll, but the principal made fun of my daughter for me going to the superintendent. I am a single mother with one daughter. No one will bully her, but now she doesn't want to go to school."
Lillian Arsola said she was wondering about the investigation on Mr. Lougee. "He referred to children as retards or vegetables on wheels, and you're not doing anything. Those are our children being called names. My taxpayer dollars are paying for the investigation. When do I get to see it?"
Gilbert Madrid, a Silver High School student, said he should have the right to speak off his chest. "What I'm hearing about bullying is just not right. My neighbor's kid is crying about being bullied by a kid with a weapon, but you do nothing. It is not right. You talk about the law, but you are busting the law. My best friend got kicked out of school because one principal decided he wanted to check on her co-op work. You need to do something to protect kids and teachers. Teachers have always been there for me. They need to be there teaching right from wrong."
A person named Villegas said on behalf of her son and all the teachers, she was speaking out because her autistic son had been fortunate to have Ms. Sosa. "She is a great and amazing teacher who has done so much for my son. Mr. Lougee told me she had done something really bad, but I have not been able to find out anything bad and why she has lost her job. There's never been anything bad. My son, who doesn't understand, asked why his teacher was leaving. It's a horrible environment at the school and needs to be looked at immediately. I wanted my son there because of the teachers."
Earl Montoya, self-professed community watchdog, said at the previous week's community forum, there were a number of allegations made of mental or physical abuse against children. He said: "I encourage you to file those allegations at CYFD (Children, Youth and Families Department). No doubt you can replace the superintendent without a golden parachute. That's the positive side. If the allegations are valid everyone on the board has legal risks. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't."
The meeting continued with the business on the agenda. Petty said an additional half hour would be available at the end of the meeting for citizen inquiries.
Streib asked Candy Milam, district finance officer, to give a synopsis of the budget presentation at the work session.
"We are down several units, which has impacted the budget," Milam said, "but the unit amounts have increased, so we have a $194,000 increase in the budget. Salaries and benefits are 87.6 percent of the budget. We have to have a 4 percent reserve. We have had a increase in Title I funding, but a decrease in Title II and in special education funding. We have a $70,000 increase for technology and maintenance, because next year testing will have to be done on computers. One of our concerns is the T&E units, because teachers who are retiring have a lot of experience and education. T&E is a multiplier."
She said staff would receive a 3 percent raise, and instructional assistants were mandated to 6 percent, but "we adjusted so they will see a little more. We are waiting on ratification from the union. We will have an increase of .5 FTE for language arts. The budget is $23.330 million, with an increase of $194,000."
Justin Wecks Silver City Education Association president gave his report. "The union unanimously approved the contract," he told Milam and the board members. "You members of the board see here a coalition. We see the lack of administrative leadership. The board has misled us to what voice you need to listen to. You need to listen to us, the public. You need to listen to the voices of those seated before you to protect the students of Silver City. He (referring to Streib) has a vested interest in silencing any dissent to consolidate his power. The running of the schools should not be dictatorial.
"The elected board is bound to listen to the interests of the citizens," Wecks ocnitnued. "You don't work for Streib. He works for you. The allegations against Streib and Lougee are exaggerated, no doubt, but the administrators and teachers live in fear of retaliation. If there were a fair and impartial investigation and if the threat of retaliation were removed, it would help.
"There are many allegations against Mr. Lougee that have caused rumors to grow. I feel obligated to say it is not Mr. Lougee's fault. He was set up for failure by Mr. Streib," Wecks alleged. "Mr. Lougee cares about kids, but he does not yet have the skills for the position. Mrs. Lougee, however, is doing an outstanding job and is open to honest dialogue. She is working her tail off for the staff, teachers and students.
"Without Streib, the three experienced associate superintendents, Milam, (Tricia) Martinez and (Gus) Benakis could continue the business of the district. There are quality principals at the schools, although Stout was left out, but there are good local candidates for the position. The ancillary staff is doing its job despite the climate of fear and intimidation. The three terminated should be immediately reinstated. Our representative and senator, Rudy Martinez and Howie Morales, will put the community first.
"We have all the resources to carry our district forward," he continued. "I am stepping down as president, but will work through the summer. Leslie Fritz of the National Education Association of New Mexico will help with the puzzle. I have faith in you board members. You took on a job that few want to. You've not been given the proper training, but personally I have faith in you. Put Streib on administrative leave, while the allegations are investigated with transparency to the public. Members of the board, your electorate has given you permission to move forward. We believe in you."
During public contact with board members, Member Debbie Eggleston thanked Streib for getting the phone fixed at the Cliff Schools, so personnel can call the Silver Schools.
Petty said he knows of more than one doctor who has moved away because he was concerned about his children being able to move forward academically.
"Yes, we did a background check on the superintendent," Petty continued. "We are dedicated to moving forward academically with him. We vetted him properly. Background checks don't put in rumors, just facts. I talked to the board president and vice president of the last board he worked for, as well as the secretary and the principals, who had glowing things to say about Mr. Streib. He was in Dubois, where he took the school to No. 1 status in Wyoming. His board found him cleared of allegations, because he was right by state law. Our board put in a lot of hours vetting him.
"I have put five kids through this school, and now I have grandkids here," Petty said. "I don't want us in the state to be No. 50. I want our kids to compete wherever they want to live. After Dubois, he raised the Sundance schools to No. 1."
To a question posed by someone about why he had not attended the previous week's community forum, Petty said: "I was told not to attend. I apologize that I wasn't there. The background check on Streib was thorough. We brought in outside investigators on Lougee. The investigators spoke to everyone who wanted to speak to them. The investigators found no malfeasance. We will continue to deal with student-to-student bullying. Make sure what you hear is truth and not just rumor."
Board members approved the consent agenda of the budget, financing and purchasing, including budget adjustments, the bus contract and bids for cafeteria commodities.
Candy Milam, district finance officer, said the budget is due to the state by May 25. Board member Tony Egan thanked staff for doing a good job preparing the budget. Milam announced an increase in lunch prices. Streib said the food service people have applied for grants so all elementary students will have no charge for breakfast and lunch. The suggested raise in prices is to meet federal guidelines. For grades 9-12, it will be an increase of 10 cents and for adults up 25 cents.
The board returned to citizens' inquiries.
Richard Hickson said he has been in the community a long time. "My kids went to school here and now my grandkids are in the schools. I've never seen the school in such bad shape. I talked to Petty and he said it was the first time he had heard about the controversy. A lady told me she had told him about it. My son was accused of carving into his desk with a Sharpie. You know what a Sharpie is. It's a felt-tipped pen. His mother talked to the principal who answered with, 'Tucker knows the rules' to her questions and that the meeting was over."
"The newspaper article was right," HIckson said. "Later I went back to it and it was blocked. These people here show people backing ourselves up. It's the community speaking up. The board members are up for election, are they not?"
Lorna Rubelmann said her granddaughter was at La Plata for one semester. "They have wonderful teachers, principals and staff. I'm from Wyoming, and when I heard Mr. Streib was being considered, I said I hope you do not deny that he was in a settlement with Dubois because of his opposition to the unions. I would hate to think you don't listen. When I talked to board member Mr. Remmel, he said Streib had already been hired."
Streib: "Wyoming is a right to work state and there are no unions. I did not receive a settlement."
Kimberly Chase said she is a local community member who grew up in a family of educators. "I know how difficult it is and that you don't get paid much. I commend you for wanting to raise the education level, but I want it done with integrity. At first, I thought the allegations were sour grapes, but then I heard Strieb and Lougee had come together from Wyoming. Streib should recuse himself in anything about Lougee.
"If a child would speak something about a Hispanic or something that's bad, I would tell the child that it is hurtful and he should not say it again," Chase continued. "But if it's an administrator or teacher, that person should be dismissed. I challenge the board that you sit down with staff members and listen to them."
Marla Welker said she had been attending school board meetings for some time. "At the April 24, 2014 meeting, there was an issue with the Open Meetings Act. That situation has placed a seed of doubt in my mind. You did not rise to the standard I expected. You need to be more open and transparent. Give me a reason to trust you."
Leslie Fritz, NEA of New Mexico representative, said Wyoming is a right-to-work state, but "we definitely have union educators there. I ask that we respect the facts. We ask you to look carefully at your budget ending balance. Under the good stewardship of Pool, the reserve has been right around $1 million. Look at the raises to administrators and technical staff, because they are outside the union contract. If the district's balance runs under half a million, it's a crisis and you face a catastrophic situation to provide services to students. It sounds like a lack of clarity about the situation in Wyoming. We will look into it and get back to you."
Mario Santana said at the beginning of the 2013-14 school hear, his granddaughter had to move schools because of harassment. That is not gossip. That is truth."
Gabriel Partido said he had a couple of questions. "When was the investigation on Lougee done and when will it be made public?"
Gilbert Madrid spoke again. "You people need to realize what people are going through. You need to pay attention to the public and answer their questions."
Mendez-Lopez also spoke again. "Mr. Streib, if you feel threatened you can file charges. When my husband was arrested you were laughing. You're sneaky. You said: 'I will call the cops on you.'"
Montoya spoke for a second time. "Mr. Petty, I heard your comments justifying the superintendent. This superintendent and his administration have created a horrible, harsh, hostile environment where people are scared to speak out. That is a fact you cannot ignore."
A woman who did not identify herself asked loudly if the board was going to answer the questions. "We have the right to know. We elected you. You sure wanted our vote."
Petty said the board did not have to answer citizen inquiry questions. The board then went into executive session to consider limited personnel matters regarding a grievance issue. Petty said the board would come out of the closed session and adjourn, without taking any additional action.