State threatens school board with suspension

State threatens school board with suspension

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By Brook Stockberger and Susie Ouderkirk

If New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera has her way, the five members of the Las Cruces Public Schools’ Board of Directors will have to go back to class themselves.

Skandera, acting on what she called “a number of complaints,” recently sent a letter to the LCPS school board pointing out multiple times the secretary believes the board violated the Open Meetings Act and overstepped “the board’s authority” and operated in a manner “outside of its charge.”

So Skandera insists the members of the school board “undergo training specific to its roles and responsibilities as well as training specific to the Open Meetings Act.”

The training must be completed within 60 days. Without the training, Skandera reports the board faces suspension.

School Board Chair Maria A. Flores responded via email with the following statement: “I have read the Secretary’s letter and I am deeply troubled by it. While I do not agree with the factual accuracy of the allegations contained within the letter, I want to be clear that I am committed to working with state agencies to address these concerns. More importantly, I intend to stay focused on my role as Board President and member of the Board, and the mission of the District to serve its students, parents and community.”

Meanwhile, when asked if she thought there had been violations of the law made by the board, Board Secretary Barbara Hall referenced an AP article about the issue and said, “What was in the AP article was evidence enough.”
She went on to say that she would not speak for the other board members and hopes that none of the other board members would either.

“We have not met or talked about this yet,” Hall said.

The other members of the board include: Vice President Chuck Hall; Maury Castro; and Ed Frank.

Skandera wrote there is an “unwillingness of the board to follow state law regarding the teacher evaluation system” and is upset Flores made a directive to Superintendent Stan Rounds to “put it in a drawer” in regards to Skandera’s own directive to report teacher absences as contained in the NMTEACH Protocol “in direct defiance to the regulations and NMAC.”
There are multiple bullet points in the letter describing various alleged missteps made by the board.

Some of those include:
• Rounds was asked to leave an open meeting so the board could meet with principals. Minutes from the meeting quote the board president noting the board discussed the matter amongst themselves … the minutes do not reflect the discussion, indicating the discussion had been conducted outside of the meeting suggesting either a rolling quorum a polling of the board or an illegal meeting.
• The board president removed the district’s long-time attorney and engaged a new attorney without the approval of the board.
• The board president ordered the district business manager to enter into a contract with outside counsel to conduct an investigation of a district program and the superintendent without the approval of the board.
• The board directed the superintendent how the LEAP/Jump program would be managed including that the supervisor of the principal would be responsible for the program essentially resulting in the principal being removed, a directive Skandera said is outside the purview of the board.

Skandera warned the school board failure to take the training “could result in my taking action to suspend the board until such time as these issues are addressed and I am confident that the Las Cruces Public Schools are operating under the provisions of law that govern school board responsibilities.”

The next scheduled gathering of the board is a work session set for 4 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 2.

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