LOCAL NEWS

Overcrowding in Small Chambers Interrupts School Board Meeting

By Tony A. Archuleta

HERALD Reporter

A sign in the boardroom states the Board of Education’s mission is to “provide quality educational opportunities for all students in a secure and supportive environment…”

Now add “…and to provide adequate seating during board meetings.”

Truth or Consequences Volunteer Fire Department Chief Paul Tooley showed up 25 minutes into the Thursday, April 12, board meeting after receiving a handful of calls from concerned individuals in attendance at the meeting.

At issue: overcrowding, a possible fire code violation and maybe even a problem with the Open Meetings Act.

Many a meeting attendee was miffed at having to stand along the walls and even outside the door at the small boardroom located at the central administrative offices on North Date Street, but for Tooley the issue was strictly fire safety.

As Hot Springs High School Principal Tamie Pargas was preparing to deliver her principal’s report, Tooley walked in, said pardon the interruption, but either the individuals standing would have to exit the boardroom for the meeting to continue or the meeting would have to be moved to a different venue.

There was a slight pause before it became apparent no one in the room was prepared to walk out, prompting Superintendent Tom Burris to meet privately with Tooley.

About 10 minutes later, Burris returned and announced the meeting would be moved to the HSHS cafeteria in 30 minutes.

It’s not the first standing room only crowd in the boardroom, but Thursday’s overflow was particularly evident.

Board members, school district personnel and meeting attendees, however, took the interruption in stride, relocating to the high school and continuing with a meeting whose lengthy agenda already promised a long night.

WORKPLACE

FLEXIBILITY

One reason for the extra large crowd: a teacher leave/personal time directive that has come under fire from the teacher’s union.

Administrative policy assesses half-day leave when a teacher has to take care of personal business, whether it be a five-minute errand downtown or a minor health issue taking up to a half-hour.

An open letter by NEA-TorC President Katherine Pierson calling on the school board to honor an agreement on the issue was recently published in the local newspapers.

Pierson stated the current policy “forces the district to spend taxpayer dollars to hire substitutes instead of working with employees to make up short periods of leave time.”

The teacher’s union is also protesting a policy that prohibits leave time during the first two weeks and last two weeks of the school year, which conflicts with important events, including out-of-town graduation ceremonies in the spring.

The school district’s collective bargaining representative, Albuquerque attorney Dina Holcomb, kicked off public input by stressing that the information released to the public was strictly the “initial proposals of both parties.”

Holcomb said that, despite the prohibited practices on the part of the teacher’s union, negotiations were scheduled to resume Monday, April 16.

“We hope we can go back to the table and reach an agreement that both parties are happy with,” she said.

Shelli Montoya, among other teachers, also addressed the board.

“Please treat us like professionals, and realize that we are in this together for the benefit of our children and our community,” said Montoya, a foreign language arts teacher at HSHS. “We are human, and we have needs and obligations outside of our buildings that sometimes only require 10 or 30 minutes of our time.”

RESPECT

PROGRAM

Seventh Judicial District Attorney Clint Wellborn, along with Pre-Prosecution Diversion Director Keri Penner, updated the board on the Seniors RESPECT Program.

Wellborn said the program, which is offered to all the school districts within the four-county judicial district, offers several real world learning opportunities, including self defense, domestic violence, DWI awareness and Internet safety.

Wellborn said Truth or Consequences Municipal School District has been especially welcoming, and he also praised district judges for allowing seniors to get an up close look at the judicial system during sentencing proceedings.

The DA said local and area law enforcement agencies also play key roles in the program that is provided free of charge to the district.

“I really hope that ultimately what we’re doing is making an impact on kids’ lives as they go into the world,” said Wellborn.

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