The 2008 School Board of the Year Award presented to the Gadsden Independent School District by the New Mexico School Boards Association earlier this month in Albuquerque, appears to have angered concerned teachers, parents, and public.
In October the District was found to have gone four years without obeying a legal requirement to conduct annual audits, and was $3.9 million in the hole. Employees were asked to choose between eliminating 97 positions or accepting a one-week non-paid vacation. Then, mysteriously, the $3.9 million was "found" in a similar amount that, magically, had not been used in the construction of Chaparral High School two years ago. The legality of spending unused capital outlay funds in this fashion is highly suspect, for various reasons, and had every appearance of an ad-hoc, politically motivated face-saving gesture by state officials who might have the power to legalize the expenditure, but not to legitimize it. Whose face was being saved? Sen. Cynthia Nava's, GISD Superintendent, who also happens to be Chair of the Senate Education Committee, co-chair of the Public School Capital Outlay Oversight Task Force, an interim committee, and vice chair of the Legislative Education Study Committee of the legislature.
All of this led to severe criticism of school officials (see my blog of November 14, here) in the news media and among parents and teachers in GISD. But the granting of the award to the School Board seemed to be precisely the kind of symbolic gesture that underscored the enormous hypocrisy the state public school system establishment had put on display in dealing with GISD problems. Now, it seemed, the NM School Boards Association was currying favor with Senator Nava by giving Superintendent Nava and her School Board a badly needed lift. If so, it backfired.
In a story this morning on the front page of the Las Cruces Sun News, writer Ashley Meeks quotes Cynthia Miranda a twenty-plus year veteran of the District: This award "is an embarrassment, when we were about to lose our jobs....Where did all this money go? Because it's not in the classrooms. It is not in the classrooms....This school board has to be held accountable." Another teacher, Sabby Navarro is quoted by Meeks as saying, "We just don't think (the award) is a good thing. We're not really happy." She said she doesn't think the administration "actually understands how bad the budget is....They sort of forget about it." There are rumors circulating in the Valley that parents are meeting in parts of the District to discuss potential action against school officials.