By Mary Alice Murphy

A candidate forum, held Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, at the Cobre High School Performing Arts Center and sponsored by the Silver City Daily Press featured four candidates seeking three positions on the Cobre School Board'for position 1, incumbent Frank Gomez seeks a third term; for position 2, Gilbert Guadiana and Eloy Medina are running; and for position 3, Gabriel Holguin is running unopposed. The positions are at-large, so do not involved separate districts.

Daily Press Publisher Nickolas Seibel served as moderator to ask mostly questions from the audience, with a few asked by Daily Press school beat reporter Stewart McClintick.

Gomez seeks to continue his service in position 1 of the school board. He is a Grant County sheriff's deputy and is active in the D.A.R.E. program.

"My goal is to provide the best education as we can in a safe environment, Gomez said in his opening statement. "We, as a school board, hire and fire superintendents, create policy and work with the budget."

Guadiana said he was born and raised in the Cobre School District and graduated in 1973. "I served on the board from 1985-86, when we moved away. I have a degree in computer science from Western New Mexico University and a bachelor's degree in public administration from Harvard." He said his focus is tied to partnerships with businesses and post-secondary education. The duties of board members go beyond the three of hiring creating policy and budgets and include the partnerships. He said he wants to build bridges into the classroom, so students choose a track after elementary school. "I look forward to integrating them into classrooms."

Medina said he, too, was born and raised in Grant County. "I am the EMS director at Gila Regional Medical Center. I received my bachelor's degree at New Mexico State University in management. I look forward to the opportunity to serve on the school board. Schools produce the greatest asset to a parent and offer the child the best opportunity to be prepared for life. It requires three sets, the school set, the tool set and the mindset." He said he also wants transparency in the board actions.

Holguin is from Arenas Valley. "We have raised four kids in the Cobre system. One is now at Western, and one each in elementary, middle school and high school. I feel I am in tune with what is happening in the schools. I ran because I hear thing from my kids and I want to be part of the schools. I have a degree from the University of Idaho in natural resources. I am the Gila National Forest Fire and Aviation officer. My goal is to see a good balance of academics, activities and athletics. Academics must be first. I would like to see every student reach his or her potential."

The first audience question asked: What are the district's greatest capital needs and how will you address them?

Holguin said the schools have many capital needs. "The district has taken great strides in remodeling schools over the past few years. Once we complete the high school, we need to address the leaky roof in the wrestling room. We need to pay attention to stuff that is outdated."

Medina said he understands the school has a line item that is assessment-based. "We have to prioritize, whether it is structural or equipment, what needs to be replaced. We also need to address staff needs to make them happy. Make sure they have what they need to do their job."

Guadiana said capital projects are usually structural. "The populace keeps renewing the bonds to pay for them. We should reduce the tax since the school population is less. We need to address economies of scale due to the declining enrollment. See what consolidations can be made for efficiency, and they should be for students and staff accordingly. We need to address administration, which is for a triple A school, when we have double A enrollment."

Gomez said capital is based on state revenues. "Now we have fiber optics moving forward, but there is still a lot of work to do. It comes down to money."

McClintick asked a follow up question: Last year, the district approved fiber optics to San Lorenzo Elementary. Would you allow residents in the Mimbres to tap in?

Guadiana said, perhaps access could be allowed after school hours and on weekends. "Yes, I definitely support it but we would have to set limits so the school gets the primary benefit."

Medina agreed and said that allowing students to take advantage of it out of school would be good. "I support the possibility of it being used as long as it doesn't incur extra expenses to the school."

Gomez said it was a good idea, but would require more research to make sure it would be no more expenses to the district.

Holguin said: "Yes, if there is no impact to students during the day."

McClintick pressed on. Might it create revenue for the district?

Medina: "It could create an opportunity for revenue, but it would need a full assessment. We could do it with an agreement for a fee to the homes."

Guadiana asked if the school could sell something for profit. It would require a mechanism to monitor usage and maybe make it free to students.

Gomez agreed with the need for a major assessment and whether it would have an impact to the district.

Holguin said he supports exploring the possibility.

The next audience question asked if there were a way to see cooperation with Silver Consolidated Schools or even a potential consolidation of the two districts.

Holguin said there was definitely a possibility for cooperation, but "I don't see consolidation in the future. Maybe it's my bias and my background, but maintaining the individual districts is important for our kids. I do believe there are opportunities for cooperation. It's healthy for the kids. In the Gila National Forest we have a camp crew program, where we bring in juniors and seniors from all the high schools in the area. We see a line between the students from the different districts, but in the real world they have to get away from that."

Gomez said what is important is the best education in a safe environment. "I see us having different cultures. Our traditions are different. I tried to set up an art shop, but Silver wanted it in Silver City and Cobre wanted it here. There's a line there. The traditions are strong."

Guadiana said he believed consolidation would be difficult to accomplish. "The school districts have incredibly different histories. Mining here and the western culture and cowboys with Silver City. We have different roots. It would be too difficult a compromise. However, there are great opportunities for collaboration. We could have more classes in common with both schools, forums and with Western and the two school districts, we could work together."

Medina agreed for cooperation. "In academics and athletics, consolidation would not work. They would disagree. Each has its own problems and successes. Cobre is different from Silver in that our schools are wide spread apart. Consolidation would be disruptive for both districts."

McClintick kept on with the topic. Cobre and Silver have different traditions, but instead how about having both high schools under one administration.

Gomez said that would require meeting with the administrators, the staff and parents. "I don't see it happening. Culturally and the ethics are so different. The objective is to get the same result for our children."

Holguin believes the identities of the two districts are very different. "I think maintaining Cobre's individuality and history is important and that trying to blend them wouldn't be successful."

Medina said he would disagree with one fiscal agent. "Cobre has 1,200 students and Silver 1,800. We need to take care of our own first."

Guadiana noted that the majority usually rules. "If Cobre goes with Silver, I don't think people will want that compromise."

An audience member asked: What are your views on academics versus athletics?

Gomez said first and foremost, education is so that students can become productive citizens. "So foremost should be academics. We have set guidelines for athletics for the students to be eligible. It has to stay that way."

Guadiana said certainly the balance between the two should be heavily weighted toward academics. "However, students have energy that athletics gets rid of. Extracurricular activities are important, but by far the focus should be on academics. By reading books, they go to college. Sports are secondary."

Medina said he is a firm believer in academics first. "Even a coach tells the students they are students before they are an athlete. We have a strong community in athletics, but the students have to maintain GPAs. We focus in the early years on academics, and become competitive in the upper levels. It should be a regular conversation at home that school is first and education is the priority. Both are important but we need to promote academics."

Holguin agreed that academics has to be the No. 1 priority. "We could count on one hand the number of students who have gone on to Division 1 schools in athletics, but it would require many more hands to track the bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees our students have attained. Athletics also requires hard work, teamwork and yes, it's a way to release the energy."

Question: What is your understanding of the grading schools from A-F?

"I don't have a great understanding of it," Holguin said. "Cobre schools could use some improvements. I would like to help raise those scores."

Gomez said he couldn't figure out the formula. "It seems to be a comparison of oranges to apples. I think it's unfair how the state does the grading. We must try to push for a better breakdown."

Medina said the grading is based on the core curriculum and testing. "The assessment is just a grading system. There is always room for improvement."

Guadiana said a lot of people believe that there is too much testing, "but we have to monitor to measure successes and find weaknesses. Yes, it has an economic effect, but it also motivates the schools and students to improve. I see testing as an opportunity to succeed. In college, students will be faced with tests. Also in adult life we are faced with tests for licenses. Yes there is room for improvement. It's one of the reasons I'm running. Discipline is not well addressed."

Question: What about testing using PARCC? What can you do to improve it or eliminate it?

Guadiana said he felt it is a futile effort to fight it. "We have to fix it, improve it and face it head on." He said he believes the amount of testing is too much, but "we don't need to get rid of it at the risk of not testing at all. We get evaluated in jobs. The burden should be on the schools, not on the students."

Medina said he is a firm believer in assessment-based testing. "When PARCC testing was in 49 states, New Mexico jumped on it. There are more than 70 days of testing in the second semester. Where is there room for teaching? And the results don't come out until November. We have to get the results before the next school year. How can we do a true assessment and make an impact on the student for the next year if we don't have the results?"

Holguin said he supports testing to see where the schools stand in the state and the rest of the nation. "We need curriculum that prepares students for the test. Yes, it is excessive. How to get the results back? We need to provide feedback to the state of the consequences for our kids."

Gomez said he believes testing is important. "With PARCC, so many states have done away with it. Students are becoming better teachers than the teachers. They no longer are teaching cursive because of PARCC. We need an assessment to know where the students stand. We have to do the PARCC because it is mandated by the state."

Question: How do you feel about schools with substandard ratings and how can you improve them?

Holguin said the focus must be on academics. "If students are falling behind, we need to help them reach their goals and have the vision to set the bar high for students."

Medina said substandard ratings are a problem, but Cobre has three openings for teachers. "Teachers are leaving the state, because the pay to workload is low to high. How does the teacher deal with those who need more help? We need to give teachers every tool necessary. We got away from teaching. The students need to learn and we need to get away from raising test-takers."

Guadiana said he agreed with teacher overload. "When you see the same discipline problems and don't deal with them, but keep passing them to the next grade, teachers are not dealing with them, so they leave. Get CYFD and Border Area Mental Health Services to collaborate and help. Kids learn misbehavior if the disciplinary problems are not dealt with. I think we should collaborate with all resources necessary."

Gomez said the problems are not the substandard schools. "I work with the D.A.R.E. program. I love it, but so many teachers are overloaded. There are not enough teachers. It's like law enforcement, a dying breed. There have to be incentives to get and keep good teachers here to educate our children."

McClintick asked the first question after a short break: With concerns over the budget with no wiggle room and consolidation of things, what would you plan to do with the financial situation?

Guadiana said the district needs to look at the efficiency of the use of the buildings. "We may have to shut down parts to save energy. The biggest concern is the administrative costs. There should be more of a movement to more teachers' aides. You would get a better bang for the buck. I support less spending on heating spaces and on administration."

Medina said he is a big advocate for budget conscientiousness. "A big priority as a school board member is the budget. Being able to work with the superintendent for cost adjustment is good. I'm not huge on cuts. We have to have the money for education and instructional uses. The state is looking at taking back money. We have to make sure we are able to pay that money. Make sure we have a good budget that serves everybody with education as the priority."

Gomez said transparency between the superintendent, the board and the financial officer is key. "We control the monies, but the personnel are the superintendent's duty. We've got heads of department who can tell where they could cut. It's a team effort. I'm glad to say we've been transparent."

Holguin said he believes the need is to look at the effectiveness. "For instance, use the internet instead of a hard copy book. Look at the facilities, and work with the other board members for effectiveness. We shouldn't change the teacher/student ratio. And we must show our concerns to the state."

Question: You've talked about the state. How will you implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and how will you get input on it, especially from the teachers?

"Our teachers are the grunts of education," Gomez said. "They will be guiding our children. Their input needs to be heard." He said it's a team effort not to have the children lost in the loopholes. "We must make sure every child succeeds."

Medina said a federal mandate is "one we have to live by. The key stakeholders are the teachers. Let the teachers assess it using the SWOT system (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). The teachers are the ones impacting our children the most. We need to support their needs. Happy teachers make successful students. We also need to look at the non-instructional aspects."

Guadiana said it's good when the federal government mandates reflect what's important. "Our greatest responsibility is to be the voice of the teachers and the students. We must go out into the community. We need to know how the students are succeeding so they are ready for the work force."

Holguin said the board members need to look at the components of the ESSA to be able to see what they need to do to implement it. "The teachers' input is critical. It's feedback from the boots on the ground. If we are not taking feedback from them, we are missing the key to what's working and what's not."

Question: How can you help ensure safety in the schools?

Guadiana said: "That is the scariest question yet. We have to address it. The district spent a lot of money to secure the doors. Preparedness and emergency drills are one of the best ways to prepare for threats from the outside. Inside, we have problems with drugs, students bringing prescription drugs and illicit drugs. We need a holistic response to address issues at home and with each individual student."

Medina said it boiled down to awareness, awareness, awareness. "There are issues. We hear about active shooters. We need to start with more training in the schools for the teachers, janitors and the front office. If a teacher sees a change in a student, that teacher needs to react. We must make everyone aware."

Holguin said the world has changed. "It's not just fist fights now; it's active shooters. The only thing to do is preparedness, with situational awareness and how to handle it. Cut out the drama and deal with it. Bullying is also a problem. Identify the problem early on and intervene so it doesn't get out of hand."

Gomez said he has been in law enforcement close to 15 years. "Reality is when you are going to an active shooter incident. Training is so important. How to react; the training never ends. Have training plans to address drugs, narcotics. There are supportive groups to help with doing awareness training."

Question: Have you been following the school board challenges for the past few years?

Holguin said some of the challenges have been addressed in other questions and answers, such as budget cuts and testing. There are issues in some of the lower grades. We must help our kids to success. The ESSA is a new challenge in how to implement it."

Gomez said with school board challenges, it always comes down to money. "Hopefully, we can find the monies. We don't get involved in personnel by law."

Medina said it's important to read up on the agenda and read the minutes online. "Press coverage is good, too. It's good to advocate for challenges and the good change that comes out. Working with a new board is always a new challenge. Budgets are challenging. We have to make sure we provide support to Mr. Mendoza, and we always look for opportunities to improve the finances. I look forward to addressing the challenges."

Guadiana said there are many challenges to performance-based education. "We've seen challenges successfully addressed. All budgets need to be tied to accountability."

McClintick asked about the controversy with the wrestling programs using the same facility, and the board said the coaches had to work it out with the schools. How would you facilitate such an issue?

Gomez said the board approves the use of facilities as they are requested. "The superintendent or principal of the school deals with it if several are using a room. ItG