By Lynn Janes
The Cobre Consolidated Schools held a regular board meeting August 8, 2022. They started with the swearing in by Judge Hector Grijalva of the two new board members Gabriella Begay and Elizabeth Dean.
President Gilbert Guadiana called the meeting to order. Other board members in attendance David Terrazas, Elizabeth Dean and Gabriella Begay. The pledge of allegiance and salute to the New Mexico flag took place. Superintendent Jeff Spaletta also attended. Serina Murillo did not attend.
Reading of the board norms took place with each board member reading a norm. The norms consist of five rules the board strives to adhere to during the meeting. They are listed as actively listen to all perspectives, respond to concerns and questions as a unified board, professionalism expected, assume positive intent, and be positive and responsive.
The board approved the agenda with a small change. They moved the healthy kids presentation to after the agenda approval.
Alicia Edwards, coordinator with Healthy Kids Healthy Community of Grant County did a presentation to the board. She told them she had been with this organization for seven years. She gave them a run down of what she has done and what she would like to do. They have already built two pollinator gardens in the Cobre district, and they would like to do another. She listed several other projects they had done. They do programs in schools to help kids learn to eat healthier and do more outside with less screen time. She stressed she had creative ways to do programs, work around what the class needs, and design programs for specific needs. The programs would be adapted for the age of the students. She said she can do ten-minute presentations or all day, all depends on what the needs are for that class. She said she already had funding for another pollinator garden. Guadiana asked Edwards if they had any programs for recycling or composting. Edwards told the board that currently they don't have anything for recycling, but composting goes in with gardens. Begay told her that a teacher at Central Elementary had done a few little gardens with the students and she should contact her. Terrazas asked Edwards where they got funding, and she said some is the New Mexico Department of Health and some comes from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The board approved the board meeting minutes from July 22, 2022, and July 25, 2022.
The board appointed Begay and Terrazas to serve on the finance committee. Murillo holds the place of chairperson. The board members volunteer to serve.
The board appointed Dean to serve on the audit committee. Guadiana holds the place of chairperson. The board members volunteer to serve.
The board approved two community members that Guadiana had contacted to serve on the audit committee. The two people are Robert Estella and Steve Armendariz.
The board approved the acceptance of a library grant from the George W. Bush Foundation in the amount of $5,000.
The board discussed looking for new legal counsel. Guadiana said the current ones have had low performance and conflicts. He said the budget for legal counsel used to be $20,000 and now they budget $100,000. He pointed out he had brought a complaint to the state concerning nepotism and illegal payment of legal fees paid by the district. He said Murillo had also filed a complaint with the state concerning nonadherence of the Open Meetings Act. She said issues discussed in closed session should have been discussed in open session. Guadiana went on to say he has been in a lawsuit (he being the plaintiff) with Ralph "Toy" Sepulveda and Frank Cordova (defendants). Guadiana said in the future he would like to get proposals for legal counsel.
Dean asked that since they recently joined (she, Begay, Terrazas) could they get a copy of all the information concerning the issue and the legal contracts so they can make informed decisions.
They decided since some of the current situations required action within a few days legal council would be looked at for the future.
Spaletta said he didn't have a copy of the new policies proposed but would have it to them soon and they can read all of them on their own time. These have not been done since 2014 so they have been out of compliance.
Spaletta told the board he had contacted NMSBA (New Mexico School Board Association) about training for the board. They had a 1-hour training on being a new board member and a 1-hour on positive relations with board and superintendent. Guadiana added they need one on the Open Meetings Act. Spaletta said he would get those set up.
The board set up a time to do a workshop concerning the 2021 audit. The workshop will be set up to go over the audit and see what they can do in the future to correct the problems listed by the auditor that had been found. Guadiana asked Spaletta if they could get three more copies of the audit for the new board members and Spaletta said he would, but it can also be seen online in the meantime. They decided to set up August 31, 2022, 5-7pm for the workshop.
Public input none currently.
Guadiana asked that in the future that public input be moved to after the agenda approval.
Spaletta introduced Frank Bryan as the new interim chief of finance. Guadiana remembered him from his time on the board in the past, 1980s.
Aron Lewis, the union representative, joined the meeting online. He said he had two things to address. Coaches contracts, which are paid with one check, and they want their teaching check to be separate from the coaching. They claim they are being double taxed. Lewis received an explanation that it had always been done this way and had not been new. Lewis asked them to please meet with them to straighten it out.
The other problem Lewis addressed had to do with ELT (extended learning time) contracts. The teachers started work this year without a contract and when they got them, they had something different from what had been discussed. In the past they received a lump sum for the ELT but now it has been separated out to receive a portion every month for several months. Lewis said the teachers contacted him very upset.
A lengthy discussion took place concerning the contracts and cash flow. Spaletta said he got here in June and apologized about the contracts not being done in time but assured them it would not be that way next year. The board asked Spaletta to have administration look at it again to see what could be done. Lewis asked when the new contracts would be ready to sign with that change.
Spaletta told the board they had two fundraisers going for the football team. A 50/50 raffle and a chili sale.
Deana Davis, human resource director gave the board an update on enrollment. She said last year they had 1064 students and now have 1001. The average attendance has been 950. Some is due to sickness, but they have someone checking into the absences. Terrazas asked if she had numbers on homeschooled students. Davis said she would not have that until October. Spaletta said the difference in enrollment from last year to this year is cause for concern. He said he had been told some teachers had denied students due to classroom size already being met. He contacted them and told them they could not deny a student. Davis said they had a policy on class size. Davis went on to break the enrollment down by school. Spaletta said the school year just started so hopefully the enrollment will go up.
Spaletta said certified bargaining agreements had been going back and forth and soon the bargaining would begin. He explained this process goes on every year. Guadiana asked if the non-certified had representation. Some discussion took place around that.
The board received a report on Summerfest. First big thanks went to Spaletta, Guadiana and Murillo for doing the dunk tank. The expectation of 300-400 attending had been exceeded to around 1400 attended. District students totaled 509 and other students 136. About 136 came from other districts, and one came from Canada. They gave away around 600 backpacks and school supplies. The t-shirts came out more than 600 because a lot of people wanted them, and they also gave them to the volunteers (83). The vaccination clinic did 50 immunization screens. A number of covid shots had also been done. They included first shots, second shots and both boosters. They had 47 booths, 3 vendors and all the schools had booths. The police and sheriff had been involved in the event. They thanked WNMU (Western New Mexico University) Scott Noble and his crew for set up and the use of some tables. Bayard Fire Department filled all the barrels with water that are used to hold down the tents the Town of Silver City provided. They have started planning for next year.
Dean commented on hearing from people in the community how much they enjoyed it.
Terrazas said it had been an amazing event and thanked everyone involved
Begay said they should send out thank you cards. They are sending them out.
Guadiana said Spaletta had many challenges when he came to Cobre but had really done a good job. He said they had always wanted community involvement, but no one ever had been successful at making it happen, but Spaletta had. He thanked everyone involved.
The board received a report on the career fair held August 2, 2022. The fair included grades 9-12 and had been open to all students. Forty careers had been represented. Many people took time to share their knowledge to the students. Freeport McMoRan, PNM, and NMDOT (New Mexico Department of Transportation) brought in machinery for the students to have a hands-on experience. Native Air flew in a helicopter and gave the students tours and had pilots and medics available to answer all their questions. WNMU had three booths, one for admissions, one for the business department and one for early childhood. Several others attended, NMSU (New Mexico State University), Dona Ana Community College and New Mexico Tech. State representative Luis Terrazas also attended and represented his business Terrazas Funeral Chapels. The students loved the direct information on careers from the people doing them.
Spaletta said next board meeting they would have a senior student representative join to give the student perspective on issues.
He said they had started doing classroom walk-throughs with administration to make sure everything is going well and all systems are in place.
Spaletta announced the first football scrimmage would take place August 12, 2022, with Deming ,and on August 16, 2022, they would have volleyball games with Gadsden.
The superintendent said Mrs. Peru the principal at Central Elementary had retired and the interim principal will be Joyce Barela, director of curriculum and instruction.
Spaletta gave the board a run down on all the roof-leaking problems throughout the district. Some of the roofs just need total replacement. He said he did receive a call from Larry (no last name given) from PSFA (Public School Finance Authority) letting him know they had an award of $227,000 coming to use for roofs and facility repairs. Spaletta said they would also look at capital outlay funds to see if some could be reallocated. He said next meeting he would have all the information. He said they also have problems with the AC in some of the classrooms and he would compile that information for next meeting. They have been in the process of fixing and replacing units currently. Some of the problems have been electrical. The high school has several swamp coolers that don't work well in humidity. Discussions on what could be done right away took place.
He brought up his entry plan he gave the board when he first came in June. Part of that plan included calling parents and community members to see what worked and didn't with the district. He said he also wanted to meet with the students to get their feedback.
Spaletta let the board know the investigation into Title Nine is still going on.
The board needs to decide on doing a forensic audit concerning some of the findings on the last audit. Guadiana said some of the findings had been very concerning. He said some things he wanted to address went back several years. He brought up superintendent Mendoza and the $93,000 payout and whether it had been legitimate.
Spaletta let the board know what he has been doing to make sure people are not paid until the job has been finished. Guadiana brought up that 25 people had been using the district account at ACE Hardware. Spaletta said he went and checked on that with the manager and some community members had used the account. Guadiana said the district has some real problems with internal controls.
The board discussed if they had a need for a consent agenda for the meetings. A discussion took place around this for a while.
Terrazas said they would need people to work during the election. He suggested the students be encouraged to participate. They do have to be registered to vote. Spaletta said he would see what he could do.
The board went into closed session.
The board returned from closed session and no action took place to report.
The board discussed the issues for the next meeting and other issues.
They will meet at different schools once a month.
Begay asked for a list of events at the schools so they could possibly help or be involved.
Guadiana said they needed to restore the community trust and then referred to Title Nine. The district needs to be in compliance and in the past, it had not been much cared about. Spaletta said Title Nine must be addressed. He said they had to obtain different demographics of people (15) to be involved with the committee.