Parents protest proposed school modifications

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The letters, petitions, passionate pleas and shared prayers carried one resounding message: Please do not change my school.

A brigade of parents voiced concerns Tuesday over proposals to alter three elementary schools during a Clovis school board meeting held in the Marshall Junior High School Auditorium.

The school board must decide on an administration proposal to merge Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy with Bella Vista and close rural Ranchvale Elementary School.
The vote is scheduled for Nov. 15.

The administration proposal will curb serious budget shortfalls and save the district more than half a million, according to school officials. Officials said the proposals will offset a state-mandated teacher salary system imposed in 2004, which is fiscally hammering the district and could lead to $1.7 million deficit.

But agitated parents — some clutching tissues and donning T-shirts is support of their school — pleaded with school board members to consider other fiscal alternatives.

“Have any other options been considered? We need to ask ourselves how much will really be saved… and will it be worth it in the end,” said Kathy Nellis, mother to a Ranchvale student.

The administration did consider alternatives to the proposals, but they were not viable, according to Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm, who spearheaded the proposals. In lieu of elementary consolidation, for example, Seidenwurm said the district could wipe out music, physical education and extra-curricular programs, or make sweeping cuts in personnel.

“There were lots of options, but they were no good so they were quickly dismissed. This option will not negatively impact student achievement,” Seidenwurm said.

Seidenwurm said there are simply too many elementary schools in the district.

There are 13. The smallest — Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy — handles 146 students compared to around 500 at the largest. Compared to nationwide standards, most of the elementary schools in the district are tiny.

“I’m praying you guys will keep the small schools as they are. They are worth it,” Ranchvale parent Jennifer Settle said.

Her mindset is popular among parents — smaller schools, many echo, make better learning institutions.

And not only parents find fault with the proposals.

Economic heavyweight Cannon Air Force Base is not a proponent of the proposals as Ranchvale is predominately populated by children of Cannon military personnel.

“Cannon Air Force Base cannot support a proposal that would close Ranchvale. We believe this proposal is unnecessary, untimely, and ill-advised,” said Cannon spokesperson Lt. Col. Jim Lewis. “Clearly more significant options need to be explored in a more methodical manner.”

Military officials are looking for a new mission for Cannon, since its current mission was federally disabled, but it is not appropriate to change school structure until the fate of the base is more certain, Lewis said.

Lewis and others said administration cost savings assessments are skewed. Lewis said the cost of temporarily housing students in portable structures was neglected in cost-saving assessments.

A round of audience applause capped his comments.

School board president Terry Martin said the board “will not make any hasty decisions” in regards to its schools.

“This is very passionate for all of us, especially those who grew up in Clovis. We will weigh the issues and look at the alternatives before we make any decisions,” Martin said.

The school administration will address comments and questions raised by the community on its Web site, www.cms.k-12.nm.us.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
• The board work session on legislative priorities was scheduled for Nov. 15. It will follow the regular board meeting.

• An approximate $2 million bid to repair the Yucca Junior High roof was awarded to Newt & Butch Roofing and Sheet Metal.