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Cobre School board members hear discussion on potential of a four-day week

Newly election Cobre School Board member Gabriel Holguin, center, attends the meeting with his son, David, at left,  and daughter Hannah, at right.

Photo and article by Margaret Hopper

Every Cobre school board member attended the meeting on Monday, February 13, 2017, including Frank Gomez, Robert Montoya, Fran Kelly, Frank Cordova and Toy Sepulveda, president. The closed session opened at 6:03; they recessed to discuss student identifiable information and limited personnel issues, not returning until 7:30, at which time Sepulveda reopened the meeting. Also present was Gabriel Holguin, Arenas Valley, freshly elected, and observing the process.

The unfinished business was Robert Mendoza’s superintendent’s evaluation. Mendoza said he had seen it and recommended that they adopt it as presented, which they did. Signatures were delayed until after the meeting ended.


Under administration, Item A, the calendar review for next year, was delayed to become part of the discussion during the Superintendent’s report. Item B was a donation of $100.00 from the Southwest New Mexico Quilters Guild, which the board accepted for the district. Three BARs (Budget Adjustment Requests) followed.

The first one contained two parts, $45,000 for construction services, and $150,000 for a bus, from Capital Outlay. The first was for safety work on San Lorenzo, Central and Hurley Elementary schools. Mendoza commented that the money was overdue and much appreciated. The second was for an activity bus, which would cost more than that, but the rest would come out of Senate Bill 9 funds, likely another $20,000 or $25,000 to finish it off. They were looking at one with at least 54 seats, and he said they hoped to keep this bus in good, clean condition for a long period.

The second BAR reduced the K-Plus 3 budget from $171,493 by $1,241 to $170,252; last summer’s program fell one student below the projected enrollment, so the difference was returned to the state. Actually, the original budget amount had been $248,980, now adjusted to $247,739, but the state’s figures take a different shape, at times.

The third was a reimbursement of $19,868 for student transportation; Porter was buying the bus and rather than a real increase, it represented a year-by-year payment for the service. At the end of five years, Porter would own the bus. The District holds a lien on the bus until the state has paid it out, then it becomes Porter’s property. It is a protection issue for the District, against financial problems any owner might have, he said.

The Calendar item was given plenty of time for presentation and consideration next, without any attempt to make a decision; because the first two examples were based on a five-day week, they were quickly discussed. The third example was based on a four-day week; the differences were given much explanation by Frank Quarrell and Michael Koury, principals from Cobre high school and San Lorenzo Elementary.

Some of the possible benefits were the savings on utilities and bus expenses. Also, student attendance was better on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as that of teachers. Substitute costs should be less. Class periods would be slightly longer, creating larger blocks of time which, they thought, should improve student work quality.

Another factor was to attract quality teachers. New Mexico has a teacher shortage that gets worse by the year, one said. Substitutes are teaching in the classrooms now. Last summer, the K-3 Plus program was run as a four-day week, a pilot, and reportedly, it was well met by kids, parents and teachers. They loved the change and it brought in more student attendance. Where this has been tried, figures show improvement in attendance of staff and students, they insisted.

Student time invested is actually a little more than state requirements. Snell and high school would go 1140 hours, 7.5 hours a day, or an extra eight days, over the mandatory 1080 hours, 180-day “year.” Elementary schools would go 6.75 hours daily, increasing their 990-hour year to 1026 hours for an extra 36 hours or another 5.3 days. The district already builds a cushion for snow-delays and other situations.

This potential change was so great that those drafting the idea, Quarrell and Koury, and Mendoza, as superintendent, wanted plenty of time for all concerned to think about it. No decision would be made until more study time was allowed. Immediate comments considered how this would affect the athletic programs. No cutting last hour for home games. They would start an hour later.

Morning arrival times would remain the same for all students. High and middle school would run to 4:00, with elementary times running to 3:15. The times for bus connections would adjust accordingly. The open Fridays could at times be utilized for prep time, parent conferences and other needs that presently stress teachers and administration.

Over all, the presenters said the benefits appeared to outweigh the adjustments and changes. Those would come with experience. (Another point was the number of teachers in the district who attended this meeting, some admitting the big draw was the potential for the 4-day change. They were animated over the prospect.)

The final pitch? With state finances so greatly stressed and likely to continue down in the next few years, being ahead of the reductions now was a great benefit over finding out the problems when and if the finances really hurt. At present, it was hard, but still working. Once the district got behind, pressures would escalate. It was better to be ahead of the game, not rushed.

Cordova questioned what utility savings could be expected on Fridays. The answer was that the new software controlling the systems allowed for the pumps to run, but the heat to be reduced for a 50 percent savings on those days. If those utility savings amounted to even one percent, that could amount to $130,000, which could go toward teachers or other benefits. The biggest savings would likely be in transportation.

Mendoza noted that the first priority was student benefit, doing what was right for them. Later it would affect things like other support staff, their contracts and union things, but perhaps communications were already in process. So, he was not putting on any pressure, but "PLEASE LOOK AT THAT CALENDAR!" (Laughter.)

Hannah Burnette’s student report was about discussions on the 4-day calendar. She said students were for it. If Fridays presented babysitting problems for parents, high school kids were willing to fill in on that, too. A parent present made positive comments on the calendar during public comment.

Mendoza informed the board about student fundraisers, some duplications and changes needed. February 20, Presidents’ Day, would be a day off for teachers and students. The state wrestling meet would take place at Rio Rancho this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17 and 18.

Sepulveda announced that board training would be held in Santa Fe next week. He and Cordova would be there on Wednesday, but all would be there on Thursday through Saturday for the visits with legislators on Thursday and training after that. The swearing in of new members would take place on Friday. Sessions would be different for older board members and the new ones, who must have immediate instruction on their dos and don’ts.

The new member present, Holguin, was congratulated, and the outgoing Kelly and Montoya were thanked for their service.

The calendar work will be on the next agenda, which should be February 27, also at the District Office in Bayard. The meeting adjourned at just after 8:00 p.m.

Live from Silver City

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