By Taysha Walter
The Cobre School Board Forum was held on October 10, 2019 and moderated by Matthew Runnels. Runnels along with C.P. Thompson of the Silver City Daily Press took turns asking questions to the two candidates, Manuel Maldonado and incumbent candidate Frank Cordova.
Maldonado has been a deputy with the Grant County Sheriff's office for 12 years and in law enforcement for 14 years. He coordinates the DARE program in both Silver and Cobre schools. He has been married for 13 years and has a blended family with six daughters. Maldonado’s reason for running for this position is to bring change and different ideas. He has lots of ideas for the schools and has visited with the truancy officers at the Silver School District about starting a 30-Day kickoff at Cobre Schools.
Cordova has served on the Cobre School Board for 32 years. He is from Cuba, NM but came to Grant County for school at Western New Mexico University to major in Business Administration. He worked for Phelps Dodge for 30 years, and then for the State of New Mexico at City of Rocks and Fort Bayard as a Maintenance Supervisor. He is currently the Vice President for the Cobre School Board, but has held all positions on the local board. He is the current President of Region 8 New Mexico School Boards Association. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the School Board Association; he has also served on the Resolutions Committee, the Awards Committee and the Scholarship Committee. Cordova earned several awards through training, including the Leadership Achievement Award, Outstanding Leadership Award and the Exemplary Award. In 2003 he earned the title of Master Board member, 1 of 20 in the state of New Mexico. In 2009 he was named board member of the year. In 2011 he earned his 24-year service award and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in New Mexico in 2013. Cordova is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and he has been a Hunters Education instructor for 30 years. He says he still has work to do on the school board, that there have been lots of changes this year with the new administration and teacher salaries, as well as the money they say the school will be getting.
The first question asked: What issues do you feel the board needs to improve upon? Cordova answered first, stating that they need to communicate and be better team players. He says they should communicate with the public, that some of the teachers live in Silver City and their kids go to Silver Schools so it can be hard for them to see eye to eye with the school board. “I say communication to the public is one of the things we need to work on” Cordova said.
Maldonado agreed that communication is very important, as well as transparency. He doesn’t see why school board members cannot go to the school and visit with teachers and go out into the public to hear their ideas.
The second question stated: School safety is a big issue around the country, things like shootings, fake threats and self-harm. To prevent this people hire security guards or improve infrastructure. What do you think Cobre Schools should do to improve safety?
Maldonado said: “We obviously need security in the schools, and not just physical personnel.” He said they need to be transparent with local law enforcement being at the schools. He would like to see a camera system utilized, like he has seen at Silver Schools. Maldonado said whoever is coming into the school would have to be buzzed in and not able to just walk in the front door. He said that as a parent, Cobre High School is very open, and the first people you see are students doing their elective in the office. He said all the schools are open, so someone could get inside. This is why he wants a camera system and people will be required to be buzzed in to enter the building. Maldonado compared this to the elementary school where people walk into the school and have to talk to the secretary before they can move on to the rest of the school.
Cordova agreed with Maldonado, and said that the elementary schools have been remodeled so that visitors have to get buzzed in. He said Snell is unique in that all the doors are in the front, so they have talked about placing a wall outside or inside so that visitors will have to pass by the secretary before they can enter the school. Cordova stated the high school would need to be remodeled or rebuilt to host a buzzer system. He discussed that the state offers funding assistance if the school is a top 100 school, but that the three to four times Cobre has reached that status something goes wrong before they receive the help, and the school drops from the top 100. He expressed a concern of building a new high school; the current school was built to accommodate 800-900 students, so if a new school were built now it would only be large enough for the students currently enrolled, about 100 per class. Cordova stated the gym and many other features that are currently at the school would be lost if a new school was built. He said that is something they are currently fighting that is not communicated with the public. He ended with saying the state has not wanted to fund cameras for the school.
The third question was: What would you propose to attract staff to participate in the board meetings?
Cordova explained there are two meetings per month; one is administration as a business meeting, the other is hosted at a different school each month. He said that often teachers prepare and attend when it is hosted at their school. He mentions communication to staff needs to be improved.
Maldonado agreed communication is important, he said participation cannot be mandated but it is important for schools to send a representative to all meetings. He suggesting speaking to the school principals about attending or sending a representative to speak on behalf of the school.
Cordova asked to add an additional comment but was told he would have to wait and add it at the very end of the forum.
The fourth question stated: Mental health is big in today’s world, including making sure students are okay in the classroom mentally. So what should the district do to make sure students are getting the proper attention mentally?
Maldonado explained with his three years working with the DARE Program, he has seen it as he deals with kids. He shared an example of a teacher with 18 students in a classroom, nine having IEPs (individual education plans). He said that was a lot of students for one teacher to try to focus on kids with mental issues on top of teaching class. “My suggestion would be train, train, train,” Maldonado stated. He explained the training they do every year for law enforcement, including Critical Incident Training that deals with mental health issues.
Cordova said there are many kids with different problems that there should be a method to identify those issues and train the teachers. He stated the need to get funding to send teachers to trainings so they can bring back new skills and apply it to those students.
Question five asked: Out of the percentage that the state sends to you, what percentage do you locally get to allocate and deal with? Runnels restated the question to the candidates.
Cordova explained 92 percent of funds go towards salary and benefits for all employees. The rest is earmarked for programs that have to be done, but they are told how much can be spent on each program. Any money that isn’t spent is sent back. Runnels restated the question once more asking what do you do with any discretionary money. Cordova stated when the budget is worked out there are line items stating how money is distributed. That is then sent to the board for approval and then the state, it is then returned. The approved budget then has to be followed closely by the business department and the superintendent.
Runnels expressed he may not have worded the question correctly, but that Maldonado could still have his turn to speak.
Maldonado said he has not seen the current budget, but that within the budget there should be money for training, even if it is only one to two teachers each year. He said there are ways, even cutting back another area to secure funding for training teachers. He mentioned those teachers who are able to go to trainings could bring back the information to share during local teacher and staff conferences.
Question six was: What are the main responsibilities of a board member?
Maldonado said budget, hiring and firing the superintendent and most importantly communicating with parents and staff.
Cordova said the main responsibilities were making the commitment to the public to be a board member and serve to the best of your capacity and to be there for as many meetings as possible. Doing trainings, he said the state requires five hours of training yearly, but he says you have to do as much as possible and bring the new information back to the district. Cordova mentioned hiring the superintendent as a responsibility, as well as giving the contract, salary and doing evaluations throughout the year. He also listed setting the district policy and overseeing property. He said a board member can put pressure on the superintendent about the staff but cannot go directly to staff members.
Question seven stated: New state laws mandate that students have access to prescribed medical cannabis while at school, but they have to have a verified medical benefit. The Silver School board recently adopted medical cannabis resolution and this allows teachers and staff to administer it to students. If this kind of policy was presented to the Cobre School Board, what would your vote be?
Cordova stated this was a big discussion statewide, and the state and federal people do not see eye to eye. He said the Federal side says to adopt it or lose funding, where the state says teachers and staff can opt out. Cordova mentioned Cobre has talked about adopting it, but having parents administer it to their students.
Maldonado said he does not have much of a comment, he agrees with Cordova that it should be the parents' responsibility. He doesn’t see how teachers or medical staff at the school can be made to administer it. He said he understands the law but questions the responsibility if something bad were to happen, who would be liable.
Question eight read: In the face of declining enrollment at both Grant County school districts, is it responsible to continue maintaining two separate district administrations? At what point should consolidation of Cobre and Silver Districts be considered?
Maldonado stated that being from the area and a graduate from Cobre, he does not see them combining. He questioned that if combined where would the school be? Would they buy property and build a new school, will they provide busses for all students to reach the school? He said he would leave the districts the way they were.
Cordova said that after discussing combining the districts with the public and administration “if you wanna have an all-out war, go ahead and do it.” He said the funding would be an issue, that it is already hard finding funding to build one school much less a large school to house all the students if combined.
Question nine stated: Cobre Consolidated Schools gets a significant amount of money from bond money and legislative money. From that pool of money, what would your priority list be for the district?
Cordova mentioned they had passed a large bond of 7.5 million dollars and received stakeholder input of what to do with the funds. He said he had a list of what they are planning to do, but would take too long to list. The other money they receive is for emergencies, ongoing maintenance and everyday operations, but they are limited in what they can do with this money.
Maldonado answered with “Safety and security for the school, that would be my answer.”
Question ten: Board members typically serve on committees. Cobre School Board has finance and audit committees. On those committees, what personal skills do you bring to the table?
Maldonado stated that he has sat on different boards and looked at different budgets and said for him it would be to learn the budget and what the financing is and go from there.
Cordova said he is currently on the audit committee, and when the committee puts out a request for an auditor, it is their job to review and choose one if more than one firm or person applies. The auditor then meets with the committee one day and presents findings in a confidential meeting before sending the report to Santa Fe. Cordova said it is the job of the other committee to correct anything that comes up in the audit.
Question eleven states: Whether it be on a school board or city council, there is always disagreement and agreement. As a school board member, do you believe you must agree or disagree with fellow board members and if you disagree, how would you work together to come to a resolution?
Cordova said the board votes on a motion and you make the best of the results you get. It will not go your way every time, but he said he goes with decisions of the board and does not get offended if somebody does not go his way. Cordova said as a board they work together. “We are there for the kids,” he said.
Maldonado agreed it is about the kids. He said you will never agree with everyone, it's up to the members to vote and try to make the best decision.
Question twelve: Governor Lujan Grisham has made early childhood development in Pre-K a top priority and even created an early childhood department. Cobre Schools already has a Pre-K in place. How would you as a board member improve the Pre-K?
Maldonado shared that he doesn’t know how much more could be improved within the Pre-K. He hasn’t seen any issues with how it is being run. He said it is an awesome program and gives kids a head start to learning.
Cordova agreed it is a good program but says the one problem across the board is a lack of teachers. He said with the district moving to a four-day school week they have had most positions filled, some with teachers earning their alternative license to teach. He said the district needs to have them do Pre-K at the beginning of the year and stick with those students throughout the year. Right now teachers are filling in here and there. Cordova said they need to communicate with the public how important it is for their kids to be in school.
Question thirteen: The governor cut PARCC assessment earlier this year, it was a standardized test, and standardized tests usually put a lot of pressure on kids. Teachers don’t have a chance to practice for a standardized test. What are your opinions of students taking standardized tests?
Cordova stated the complaints about PARCC were enormous, and the new administration has said they will cut down on tests, but the board has heard it is the same test with a new name. He said he thinks kids need to be challenged and they need these kinds of tests. Cordova said education today is different from what it used to be and "we are having a hard time adapting it to the world today. "
Maldonado agreed the test didn’t seem to have changed, but he disagreed with standardized tests. He said in schools the teachers work with students with mental health issues. Cordova asked how a test can be standardized for these students?
Question fourteen: State funding for school districts are based heavily on the number of students each school district has. What will you do as a board member to increase the number of students at Cobre?
Maldonado said he remembers when he was in school the kids would switch between Cobre and Silver schools and he sees that still now. He said sometimes it is due to issues or problems, but other times it is easier for families that are working in town. He said he does not know how to increase the numbers as it is back and forth no matter what school.
Cordova said he would talk to businesses that have come into a community when they are hiring people. He talked about brining in new programs that would attract students. He mentioned encouraging and talking to legislators and senators, people that could help the district.
[Editor's Note: This was done from a video, which was cut off at the end, so closing statements are not included.]