By Tony A. Archuleta
Tom Burris announced at Thursday’s, July 19, Truth or Consequences School Board meeting that he’s resigning his superintendent’s post to take the top administrative job at Roswell Independent School District.
Burris, who joined Truth or Consequences Municipal School District in 2008, will oversee a school district in Roswell that consists of 13 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools (Goddard, Roswell and University High).
Following Burris’ announcement, the Truth or Consequences Board of Education appointed Craig Cummins as the interim superintendent. Cummins joined the school district last January as activities and transportation director. He formerly worked as a superintendent of schools in Oklahoma.
Burris described his new post in Roswell as a “huge career move” and noted he will be overseeing a school district with 11,000 students versus about 1,300 locally.
Burris said he was “recruited to apply for that position by their consultant for a superintendent search,” interviewed for the position on Saturday, July 14, and was notified that he had been selected for the position later that evening.
“I will miss TorC,” Burris told The Herald during a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “The school board that hired me was the Board of the Year in 2009. I appreciate the confidence they placed in me. The first thing they told me, they wanted to improve (student achievement) scores.”
The board that hired Burris consisted of current incumbents Ann Filosa, Cathy Vickers and Louis Schwab, and former members Paul Tooley and Lydia Bamonte.
The latter two officeholders were ousted in the February 2011 school board election by Jay Johnson and Randy Piper (who recently resigned for the superintendent’s job in Lordsburg).
Susan Taylor, the former Arrey Elementary principal who vigorously campaigned on behalf of Johnson and Piper due to a major falling out with Burris over a job reassignment, posted on The Herald Facebook page, “Thank God and Greyhound,” in response to Burris’ resignation.
Taylor, whom Burris reassigned as assistant principal at Truth or Consequences Middle School, left Truth or Consequences Schools for an administrative job within the Hatch Valley school system.
For Burris, who relocated to Truth or Consequences from Montezuma-Cortez School District in Colorado, this was his first superintendent’s job, although he had worked as an assistant superintendent.
He said he was aware of the political challenges that come with the position.
“That’s just part of the job. I knew that going in,” he said. “I’ve heard it said that the average (tenure) for a superintendent in New Mexico is 1.2 years. I beat that by a lot, I was beginning my fifth year.
“One of the things that superintendents have to have is a thick skin because no matter what decision you make you are going to make somebody mad about it.”
Whether it was transferring personnel or hiring administrators, Burris said decisions were strictly based on the educational interests of students.
Tooley and Bamonte went down with the political ship in defense of Burris’ job performance, and a recent job offer from Socorro School District followed by his hiring at Roswell indicates his resume is held in high esteem.
Burris said he feels like he’s leaving Truth or Consequences Schools on a high note.
“Last year when we gave 5.34 percent raises, it was the biggest raise in the state,” he said. “In talking with (Roswell) school board president (Mackenzie Hunt), their teachers have not had a raise in three years. We have not laid off teachers, and we are not planning on laying off teachers. We have a good cash carryover that can be used in case the (state) funding level goes down during the school year. And I know school districts north and south in serious financial straits that are cutting salaries and releasing teachers.”
Burris said he’s proud of his accomplishments here, including the renovation/expansion of Arrey Elementary and the pending construction of a new $12 million Truth or Consequences Elementary.
Much of the discord between top administrators and staff has been the result of collective bargaining talks that have failed to produce an agreement.
“Collective bargaining really drives a wedge between administration and staff, and it doesn’t have to be negative,” he said. “But people need to approach the table with realistic requests.
“I think that in TorC the teaching staff are among the highest paid people in the community,” he added. “They work hard – I was a teacher for 10 years. Classroom teaching is a hard job, and they deserve the pay. It’s just from the outside, people see teachers as being very high paid and they want, by and large, accountability and good education for their kids.”
Burris said his contract locally requires that he give the board 30 days notice of resignation.
Following executive session Thursday night, Burris said he read his letter of resignation.
“I asked them to act upon it, which they did, and told them that by statute they need to have a superintendent in place, so they chose to appoint an interim superintendent and they chose to appoint Craig Cummins for this (2012-‘13) school year.”
In Roswell, Burris will succeed Michael Gottlieb, who is retiring after what Burris believes was an eight-year tenure.
“Educationally, performance has been one of their top priorities for years, and they have a really good data team that drives the district,” Burris said. “I’m really excited about being there.”