At the Feb. 20 Regular meeting, the Board of Education unanimously voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Education Association – Las Cruces which will allow LCPS to distribute $233,887.50 in funding from the STEM and Hard-to-Staff Teacher Initiative stipend. The Board previously voted to temporarily delay action on distributing the stipend from the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED), while the district sought clarifying information.
“Despite numerous attempts to get clarification from the PED, we have still not received any response from the PED as to how they selected these 29 teachers to receive the stipend,” said Director of Human Resources Dr. Miguel Serrano. “This has created a situation where we have teachers asking why they didn’t receive the stipend. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the information from the PED to answer those questions.”
According to the PED, “the purpose of these funds is to provide a $5,000, $7,500, and $10,000 stipend per year to effective, highly effective, and exemplary STEM (grades 6-12), Special Education (K–12), Bilingual (K–12) or other hard-to-staff teaching positions to serve in low performing (D/F) schools. These funds can be used as a stipend to recruit these hard-to-staff teachers to teach in hard-to-staff schools or to attract and retain these teachers in low-performing schools.”
Since LCPS did not receive clarifying information about the stipend selection process from the PED, the Board also unanimously voted to not support the Public Education Department process for Hard to Staff Schools Incentive Stipend. As part of the vote, the district agreed that it will not submit and future applications to the PED for the Hard-to-Staff Teacher Initiative stipend.
“I do not support the stipend, simply because we do not have a clear understanding of how PED selects teachers for this stipend,” said Board President Maria Flores. “It’s not that I don’t support the teachers, it’s that the process is not transparent and seemingly based on criteria that the PED keeps changing.”
Board Vice President Ed Frank, Board Secretary Ray Jaramillo Board Member Terrie Dallman and Board Member Maury Castro all echoed Flores’ comments denouncing the process for its lack of transparency and equity.
“This stipend amounts to merit pay and I have consistently gone on record saying that I don’t support merit pay,” Jaramillo said. “This appears to be another instance where PED is trying to circumvent the processes and systems we have in place at the local level.”
Superintendent Receives Two-Year Contract Extension
Following the Superintendent’s mid-year performance evaluation, the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to extend Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing’s contract by two additional years. The extension, which represents a break from the traditional one-year contract extension, means that the Superintendent’s current contract, originally set to expire as of June 30, 2019, is now set to end on June 30, 2021. (Click here to read the press release about the contract extension.)
Approval of the NEA-LC Agreement
National Education Association – Las Cruces (NEA-LC) President Wendy Alberson announced that NEA-LC and LCPS have tentatively agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2017-18 school year. The Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the tentative agreement.
“We will be coming back to the table in the near future for training and facilitated bargaining,” Alberson said. “Using interest-based bargaining will allow us to work with all parties involved to develop mutually beneficial agreements that are based on the shared interests.”
As part of the new agreement, the district agreed to write a joint-letter with NEA-LC explaining the new process, both LCPS and NEA-LC agreed to fully commit to interest-based bargaining, and both parties agreed to resume bargaining during the LCPS budget development process.
“All too often the timing of the district’s budget creation process and the state budget workshop in April have been major obstacles for bargaining,” Alberson said. “We look forward to the commitment of the district to come back to the table and approach bargaining in a new way.”
“This new type of bargaining brings the interests of all our parties together to benefit our staff and students,” said Deputy Superintendent Gabe Jacquez. “I think that we all win when we do that.”
New Tobacco and alcohol-free school policy adopted
The Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt an amended tobacco- and e-cigarette-free policy.
The newly amended policy: clarifies that possession and distribution of tobacco products is banned on school property and at off-campus events that are school- or district-sponsored, prohibits the use, possession or distribution of liquid nicotine containers and “lookalike” products such as candy cigarettes, outlines discipline procedures for policy violations, requires the district to communicate the new policy and prohibits tobacco advertising on campus.
The strengthened policy is a joint effort between LCPS and the 24/7 anti-tobacco campaign, which approached the school board to champion a stronger policy for the district.
Students involved in the 24/7 campaign delivered brief remarks highlighting the importance of the new policy. The students are also involved in Evolvement, a youth movement for high school teens promoting a tobacco-free New Mexico.
Both 24/7 and Evolvement are supported by the New Mexico Department of Health’s Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program with Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement Funds.
Las Cruces Public Schools is the fourth district in the state to adopt a 100 percent tobacco-free school policy.
Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing said that as the district begins the budget process for the next school year, LCPS official will continue to work with school principals and community members to incorporate input from a variety of stakeholders. Ewing also said that any currently vacant positions will be reviewed and evaluated based on necessity.
“We invite members of the public and our staff to provide their input during in the budget development process,” Ewing said. “Although we are working with tentative figures, we will have more definite figures about the state funding we will receive for the year after the Governor signs the budget.”
Ewing also mentioned that the district utilized $1.3 million from additional State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) funding to add 30 additional teaching and educational assistant positions to meet the needs of schools across the district.
School Safety and Security Discussed
Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing discussed a variety of safety guidelines and security measures he has implemented across the district.
“I’ve instructed principals to take extra precautions such as locking doors, establishing check-in procedures and practicing lockdown drills. I’ve given the principals the broad authority to decide who can and who cannot be on their campus, since we only want people who have an educational need to be there,” he said. “We’re are also exploring a new panic button lanyard system that is similar to the panic buttons currently in schools that can quickly place a school in lockdown.”
In his closing remarks about school safety, Ewing said he has the utmost trust and confidence in the district’s school principals and he thanked them for their commitment to students and staff.
Classified School Employees Council – Las Cruces President Irma Valdespino discussed the recently passed legislative budget which provided a 2.5 percent salary increase for teachers and a two percent salary increase for increase other school personnel.
“I don’t think our legislature understands the concept of economic justice,” Valdespino said. “Our classified and support staff are the backbone of education and they deserve economic justice.”
She then cited several examples of classified employees who, despite the salary increases at the legislative level, will still face consistent economic challenges.
Blue Ribbon Committee
Community Outreach Liaison Brigitte Zigelhofer recognized Ben Woods, an administrator at MountainView Regional Medical Center, for his work as chairman of the 2018 Bond Election. The election, which took place on Feb. 6, passed by an overwhelming margin and is set to provide $50 million for capital construction projects throughout the district.
Student Advisor Report
Student Advisory Council President Cameron Castillo celebrated the recent passage of Senate Memorial 8. The memorial requests that the Public Education Department and the Legislative Education Study Committee to study and evaluate potential solutions to decrease the rates of suicide by firearms and gun violence in schools. The memorial was passed on the senate floor on Feb. 14
Castillo explained that he, fellow SAC member Max Sanchez and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, who sponsored the memorial, worked collaboratively to put together the legislation.
As part of the LCPS Student Advisory Council, a student-led group which provides input and feedback about district policies and operations to the Board of Education and Superintendent, Castillo and Sanchez made several trips to Santa Fe to present testimony in support of the memorial. “After the passage of this memorial, I reminded the entire Student Advisory Council that they made a true difference at the legislative level.”
“I hope I can convey just how proud you should be of Cameron and Max. I was blown away by their poise, high-level critical thinking and articulation in front of the Senate,” Steinborn said. “I’d like to thank the LCPS leadership for their continued support in bringing this issue to the legislature.”
Board President Maria Flores followed up the remarks by thanking Sen. Steinborn for collaborating with the Board of Education and LCPS students to develop the memorial.
Continuing his discussion on school safety, Castillo said, “there is no reason to assume that the tragic events that unfolded in Florida couldn’t happen here in Las Cruces. So we need to think about how we move forward to ensure each school has the proper training and procedures to respond to situations like this.”
“Since your council is the voice of our student body, I would like to instruct members of my executive leadership team to meet with you and discuss how we can provide the information and training our students need to feel prepared to handle these situations, should they ever arise,” Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing.
Castillo ended his report by mentioning highlights from high schools across the district and explaining that the SAC has developed two committees—the communications subcommittee and bylaws subcommittee— to help advance the work of council.
Arrowhead Park Early College High School Admission Process Discussion
Arrowhead Park Early College High School Principal Jennifer Amis discussed the recruiting, application and admission process for Arrowhead Park Early College High School and Arrowhead Park Medical Academy.
“This year, due to the limited capacity of our post-secondary partners, we have to cap enrollment at 600 students for both schools,” said APECHS Principal Jennifer Amis. “This change would mean we can only accept about 150 of the 200 ninth-grade applicants this year.”
Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing said he will meet with Amis and representatives from New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College to discuss possible alternatives that would allow for larger enrollment numbers.
Citizens Bank Donates $34,000 for New School Marquees
The board unanimously voted to accept an $18,000 donation from Citizens Bank to provide funding for a new electronic marquee at Sonoma Elementary School. In addition, the Board also unanimously approved a $16,000 donation from Citizens Banks to help provide funding for a new electronic marquee at Highland Elementary School.
To provide additional funding for the Highland Elementary School marquee, LCPS Interim Chief Financial Officer Ed Ellison said that Campos Photography made a $3,500 donation and the Highland Parent Teacher Organization made a $2,500 donation to go towards the purchase of a new marquee.
Board President Maria Flores thanked all of the businesses for their donations and asked if LCPS staff can explore the cost and feasibility of converting existing fluorescent marquees to solar-powered marquees to help reduce electric expenses at each respective school.
Financial Report and Audit
Interim Chief Financial Officer Ed Ellison gave a presentation about the second quarter report which ended as of December 2017 and was submitted to the New Mexico Public Education Department. Ellison also discussed the January financial report, noting that approximately 75 percent of the month’s expenses were attributed to instruction, insurance and facility maintenance.
“At this point, all of these figures are all fairly similar to last year’s figures,” Ellison said.
Ellison then gave a presentation about the district’s annual financial audit, which began in May 2017. This year, the district selected CliftonLarsonAllen, an Albuquerque-based firm, to complete the audit, instead of Moss Adams, which performed the district’s previous six audits.
“When you change auditors it’s difficult to meet all of the deadlines. Thanks to the hard work of our Finance department staff and our finance committee, we received an unqualified opinion,” Ellison said. “The rating is generally considered to be the best possible audit outcome since it means all of our financial statements were appropriately presented.”
An unqualified opinion is an independent auditor’s judgment that a company’s financial records and statements are fairly and appropriately presented, free of material misstatements and in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), according to Investopedia.com
“Not all of us get a 100-page report on our work every year, so I would just like to give kudos to you [Ellison] and your entire team for your excellent work on this audit,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing.
Bond Project Oversight Committee Discussed
Deputy Superintendent Gabe Jacquez discussed a proposal to develop a Bond Advisory Oversight Committee made up of community members and district representatives.
“This committee would work alongside LCPS staff to help advise us about decisions regarding the bond projects,” Jacquez said. “By the April 2018 work session, we’re hoping to have a preliminary timeline for the four-year cycle of these bond projects.”
As part of the proposal, Jacquez recommended that each Board Member and the Student Advisory Council could appoint up to two citizens to the committee and Superintendent could appoint one citizen.
“This committee will provide an extra layer of oversight. Although it may be a bit more work, it will help to ensure transparency and accountability throughout this process,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing.
Voters in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County overwhelmingly passed a $50 million school bond election on Tuesday, Feb. 6. It was approved by an unofficial vote of 5,030 (89 percent) in favor to 633 (11 percent) opposed. The approved bonds will pay for new classrooms, remodeled facilities, safety items, updated equipment, and much more, district officials said.
Downtown Desert Yoga was recognized for partnering with district to provide free group yoga classes for LCPS employees. St. Paul’s Methodist Church and the Boys and Girls Club of Las Cruces were both recognized for providing the use of their facilities while Central Elementary School was being treated for mold.
The Centennial High School media program was recognized for winning the 2018 NMAA/New Mexico Scholastic Press Association State Competition. (Click here to read the press release about the award) In addition, Maria Luera, a food service employee at Mesa Middle School, was recognized for successfully performing the Heimlich maneuver on a student who was choking on a breakfast burrito.
City of Las Cruces Active Transportation Plan
Safe Routes to School Coordinator Ashleigh Curry discussed coordinated efforts between LCPS and the City of Las Cruces to provide safe walking and biking routes throughout the city. Following Curry’s remarks, Srijana Basnyat, senior planner with the City of Las Cruces, discussed an active transportation plan survey the city will be conducting over the course of the year.
“The active transportation plan is about making Las Cruces a more walkable and bikeable city,” Basnyat said.
As part of her presentation, she also encouraged members of the community to provide feedback about current walking and biking routes by visiting: www.activelascruces.com
-LCPS Communications Coordinator Paul Dahlgren, firstname.lastname@example.org, (575) 527-5808