By Lynn Janes
The Silver City Consolidated Schools held a work session in Cliff on April 17, 2023. President Ashley Montenegro called the meeting to order. Other board members in attendance included Michelle Diaz, Patrick Cohn, Mike McMillan, and Eddie Flores. Superintendent William Hawkins also attended. The Pledge of Allegiance and salute to the New Mexico flag took place.
The board approved the agenda.
The purpose of this work session had to do with the continued discussion of the possibility of arming the security guards and the policy.
Flores said: "Everyday you see on the news another mass shooting has taken place. If we don't pass this, we are failing our kids."
McMillan said he had been part of the committee that put this policy together and thought they would be just using Rio Rancho's policy. The committee instead took a very methodical approach to the policy no matter what side of the issue they supported. Sometimes the meetings did get a little heated, but Hawkins kept it on track and remined us the reason for the committee had to do with putting together the policy. For the most part the policy came out the same as Rio Rancho's, but each person scrutinized each part. The policy has been given to the legal department for review. All the town hall meetings had been completed. After this meeting they would meet again. McMillan said some people had asked why some things had been included and some not. "We are bound by state statues." He commented he had been pleased with what they had drafted.
Hawkins said they had gotten great feedback at the three town halls they had done. People had asked about how the guards would be tested and if that would be done periodically. Some of the tests and checks have been a periodic practice. The people had wanted more checks. In every aspect of the plan the most important elements focused on safety for the students and employees. He went over some of the specific points and language and said the committee had addressed every concern. The townhalls had overall been a good dialogue all the way around. They had some tense moments, but everyone recognized it to be a tough subject and self-corrected.
Diaz wanted to know if the current guards would be willing to go through the process required. Hawkins and Luis Alvarez, assistant superintendent, said yes. Alvarez has been part of the threat assessment committee which includes the current security guards and has been part of the committee drafting the policy. Hawkins said they would have to obtain an FFL (federal firearms license) and that would take time.
Diaz said she saw it both ways. She also added that she had concerns about liability. She also had concern about special needs students and how they would react. The guards would have to have training for how to work with kids in a law enforcement role.
Hawkins said all the guards have been police officers and now retired. As police officers they have had training for how to work with kids. They have been required to have four hours of crisis intervention and sixteen hours of special needs. They have physical fitness requirements and regular weapons training.
Flores said they would be there to identify and stop threats. "seconds equal lives."
McMillan said right now they have a variety of duties and would this require they hire more people to cover those or will they be absorbed by others.
Diaz said they did use their security guards for many other uses and arming them would change that. "Personally, I have some serious reservations about the guards having weapons in the school. I have no interest in arming our educators, but it is important we hear all sides." This must be just another layer of protection. She commented that infrastructure must be important, and procedures need to be followed. "We need to address this before they become a shooter and look at the mental health perspective. People that do this are not in their right mind and it is just as crucial to address. This can't be the sole solution and the school needs multiple layers of protection."
Hawkins said, "This is not the end-all-to-be-all solution." The district already has multiple layers and barriers of protection. They have been able to add more mental health support due to additional funding. They have added social workers to each campus. They have added an anonymous reporting app, website security that if any key language is detected they get a report right away with the name and address so they can have it checked out. Hawkins said it has already helped. They have cameras at all the doors, and they have locks. Currently they have been looking at some software called Zero Eye. "This software can detect within five seconds if an individual has a weapon and will contact us and the police immediately. We have to look at all resources." He cited some of the past events in the news and commented that if a person has made that decision to cause violence they will. "An armed guard's only job is to mitigate the loss of life."
Cohn said he appreciated all the dialogue. "The policy is well written." He said he didn't know anything about this, so he had a family member who is in law enforcement look at the policy. They said, "It is ideal and well drafted." Mental health must be a concern. A lot of his constituents had told him they felt more comfortable having armed guards. He reflected on the shooting in Nashville recently. They had to consider that law enforcement currently has a shortage. Cohn said any time he and his family go to a function they wonder if they will be safe. "We live in a scary world."
Diaz asked if they did this would they have an armed guard at each school. Hawkins said they would have to add additional staff, but just one more and the board would have to approve that.
Hawkins said if they armed the guards their sole purpose would have to be that, and they could not be used for any other purpose. He pointed out that it would not mean they would not be interactive, but their role would be restricted. He gave examples of some of the things they do now. They could not be a disciplinarian because it might make students feel intimidated.
Montenegro said they would be making some changes in the policy because of some of the things talked about in this meeting and other input they had received. "We don't take this lightly. This warrants our time and commitment. It has been a process." She thanked everyone for their work on this and guidance.
Work session adjourned
The Silver City Consolidated Schools held the regular board meeting in Cliff on April 17, 2023. President Ashley Montenegro called the meeting to order. Other board members in attendance Michelle Diaz, Patrick Cohn, Mike McMillan, and Eddie Flores. Superintendent William Hawkins also attended. The Pledge of Allegiance and salute to the New Mexico flag took place.
The board approved the minutes from the regular board meeting March 20, 2023, and finance meeting March 9, 2023.
The board approved the agenda for the meeting.
Information and presentations
Dottie Pfeifer with Kiwanis attended to present the student of the month recognition for Cliff.
Lilynn Zacharias a Cliff High School senior received the April recognition. She is brilliant, focused, and hardworking. She participates with FCCLA (Family Career and Community Leaders of America), FFA (Future Farmers of America), Cheer and more. She can be counted on, always dependable and goes above and beyond.
Janean Garney, principal at Cliff had students to recognize for their achievements.
Gaylene Agnew, teacher introduced one of her students, Noah Bratcher who had placed 2nd in state for word processing with Business Professionals of America.
Stacy Swope, teacher, introduced her students who had competed at state with the FFA. The floriculture team had placed 2nd. The students included Paige Trevizo, McKynna Motes, Bella Funk, and Paislee Donaldson. The milk team sponsored by Shandra Donaldson placed 1st and will be able to compete in nationals. Those students included Paige Trevizo, Sadie Ortega, Jacie Oglesby, and Paislee Donaldson.
Agnew sponsored the Technology Students Association participants. Zachary Eggleston won 1st place in state for extemporaneous speech. A team of students won 1st place for their solar sprint race car. The team included Zachary Eggleston, Andrew Eggleston, Hunter Kopchick, and Teigan Trevizo. Their car had been the only one to finish the race. They could not spend more than $50 on the car and had to keep a record of the design process for the car, receipts, and materials list.
James Marshall, assistant town manager, addressed the council concerning Silva Creek Trail project and joined the meeting online to give an overview of the project. This would be phase one of the project. He had a power point presentation with proposed trails and location. The trail would be behind the old Water Works building and behind Jose Barrios Elementary School. His purpose for the presentation had been to receive permission to move forward. The project would not just be trails but picnic grounds, restroom facilities, camping and a watering station.
McMillan asked about the fencing between the school and trails. Marshall showed him photos of the area. The only gate in the fence falls to the north of the school.
Montenegro asked if they really had a lot of traffic back there and pointed out the sidewalks in the front of the school. She also expressed concern for the safety of students since they only had a chain-link fence in the back of the school. Marshall currently said a lot of people have been using the creek bed for hiking and biking and this would give them a place instead of the creek bed.
Marshall didn't have an agreement at this time but had requested they vote to work with them on an easement.
Diaz asked when they would start the work and Marshall said in May. Montenegro asked him to get an agreement to them by the next meeting. Diaz wanted to make sure they would maintain the area and Marshall said they would.
Cohn expressed concern over the security of the school and suggested a sturdier fence in the back because of the increase in traffic.
Hawkins said he had looked at the area and walked the proposed trail and it would be a good distance from the fence. He said he and the principal at Jose Barrios had walked it and didn't see any concern. He pointed out it would clean up the area and beautify it.
Diane Carrico with SCEA (Silver City Education Association) had a report to give the board. She went over all the bills that had helped the teachers and gave special thanks for the insurance that would be covered for the teachers.
Hawkins addressed several things for the board.
House Bill 130 increased the hours of instructional time. Previously the elementary had been 990 hours and the others 1080 hours. Now the time would be 1140 hours. He had the previous schedule and what they did to be in compliance with the new requirements. They had asked the students and teachers if they wanted to increase time in the day or increase days. The majority wanted to increase time in the day. He went over the new calendar for them to meet the instructional time. Hawkins said he had concern for the little ones because that would be a big jump in school time.
Mark Valenzuela with Bosque Advisors had attended the meeting to explain the capital outlay funding forecasting. He went over the property taxes used and an explanation of how the process worked. He had provided several documents and graphs for the board to support his presentation. These documents and graphs showed how it translated to the schools and funding available. Currently the district has enough to pay debt but not more unless property taxes increased. Racheal Gudgel joined the meeting online and gave further explanations.
Hawkins said, "I wanted the board to know where the district was at." Next year they would be doing a master plan for infrastructure and Hawkins said, "I wanted you to have a realistic look at where we are at."
They have had two meetings recently concerning the strategic plan. They have continued to work on and go over surveys. This has been part of putting the plan together for the next year. They had a meeting with community leaders about what they want for the profile of our high school students. Some of those community leaders had been Representative Luis Terrazas, Senator Siah Correa Hemphill, Police Chief Freddie Portillo, City Manager Alex Brown, a Freeport McMoRan representative, President Joe Shepardof WNMU (Western New Mexico University), etc. Hawkins said they also had board members and teachers involved. They had a very good cross section of people.
Louis Alvarez, associate superintendent, said no matter what they do the personnel percentage stays at 98 percent. He will be going to two job fair events and hopes for recruitment there. Currently they have four positions open.
Cindy Barris, associate superintendent, had not been available so Hawkins did give a brief report. The district has lost fifteen students. The reason has to do with excessive absences. If a student has to many absences, they automatically will be disenrolled.
Michelle McCain, finance director, said with the 6 percent increase required by the state legislature and other increases they must look at finding 7.27 percent increase in the budget. They looked at it and determined the increase could be met. She did want to let the staff know that the increases concerning insurance would not show any effect on their checks.
Montenegro said the finance subcommittee had met and they talked about salaries and benefits. The changes would still leave them in a good position with the budget.
Flores said the threat assessment committee met three times and talked about the Zero Eye software Hawkins had talked about. They also discussed the armed security guards and what that means. It will just be another layer of security.
Montenegro said the district only had nine weeks to go before school will be out for the summer. Tests will be coming up and she encouraged the students to do the best they could and show the state what they have learned. She thanked the staff for everything they do and all the extra they do. They have already started getting ready for next year. She addressed all the public comments and said "It does not fall on deaf ears. We are taking it all into consideration because it is an important decision."
Diaz thanked everyone who made the trip out for the meeting and congratulated all the kids for their hard work. "A lot is going on right now and I thank all of you that go above and beyond." The administration has done a lot both short term and long term and she thanked them. In reference to the policy being discussed, "I have a different perspective on it but love the feedback from the community."
Cohn thanked Cliff for the hospitality and dinner. He thanked them for the collaboration on everything.
McMillan said only 23 more days to graduation. He wanted to give a shout out to Claudie Thompson who got NHD (national history day) teacher of the year. A lot of activities have been happening and he thanked the staff and teachers for their leadership. He said he enjoys being in Cliff.
Flores thanked Cliff for their hospitality and dinner.
Montenegro announced that they only had three minutes to make a comment.
Nancy Stevens thanked them for their extra effort and service. She said she has two children and had the privilege of being on the committee for drafting the policy. The committee had a diverse makeup. They had spent a lot of time on each and every point. She said it did get heated, but Hawkins had reminded them that they had not been there to debate the issue but draft a policy. She said her concern, the state already has started looking at providing an SRO (security resource officer) and they would not have a need anymore. She also wanted to suggest they just start with the high school. She had a reaction from one in the committee that they didn't work at the high school and their life was just as important. This speaks strongly to the psychology of the issue and not the evidence. "People feel safer with guns but that doesn't mean they are safer." She cited a study by the Journal of American Medical Association that said they had not found any association with having armed guards and the deterrence of violence. "Most school shooters are suicidal." The district has already actively invested in proven strategies to reduce violence. She had exceeded the three minutes but kept going with her comment for a while.
Dr. Brian Ethridge said he comes to the board as a parent and pediatrician. He has been a pediatrician for sixteen years. He said gun violence is the leading cause of death in children. They had to look at the level of risk and not fear. He cited that they only had a one in several million chance of something happening. "Guns do not deter violence and they are ineffective." He went on to talk about all the problems in the schools and said 40 percent have mental health issues.
Steve Mitchell addressed the board. He said he had moved to the area three years ago from Tucson. All the schools there have been armed for thirty years. He told the board about a recent incident at HMS in Cliff where they had to call 911 and the sheriff's department could not respond because of deputy shortages, and they had to call Reserve. It took an hour in half to get an officer. "What if that had been for a school shooter?" He reminded them that 80 percent of the people in their survey had been for arming the guards.
Joe Doyle said he had a student in 5th grade. He himself had been born and raised in Chicago and they had armed security there. "I came here, and this area is special." He felt this has been all fear-based. "It has been shown guns are ineffective. We need to teach prevention and teach students tools for life. Please don't put guns in school with our children."
Jennifer Johnston said this is the first school board meeting she had attended. She said she felt that the board has been very careful in the decision and looked at everything. They had brought in experts and have been carefully weighing the information and she really appreciated it. They had emotional appeals at all the town halls. "For you that is not enough, and you have to look at the data." Studies show an armed guard would not help and in fact increase the possibility of harm. "You would be putting my child at more risk, and I don't want that."
Laura Aubrey said she had not prepared a written statement but would just speak from the heart. She has a student in 2nd grade and attended the townhall meetings. She had also participated in the survey. She wanted to know why this has been considered and no other safety methods. Every school should have a security guard and metal detectors. "Guns change the environment."
Montenegro thanked everyone for their comments and said the board appreciates their time and points of view.
The board approved the consent agenda that included checks in the amount of $3,141,423.74 and donations from Amplified Therapy, Inc. in the amount of $3,500 for prom, boys and girls track and cross country. Also, a check for $700 from WNM Communications for the annual cake auction.
Victor Oaxaca, transportation director, didn't have anything to report currently.
The board approved the easement for the Silva Creek pathway conditional on receiving an agreement and accepted at the discretion of Hawkins.
The board approved all three calendars for next school year 2023/2024. The calendars included Silver Schools, Cliff Schools, and Silver Scholars Academy.
Public comments none currently.
The next regular board meeting will be May 15, 2023, at the Silver High School Little Theater.
Finance committee meeting May 11, 2023
The board went into executive session to discuss the superintendent's contract.
The board came into open session.