School merger passes

Clovis school board member Lola Bryant, second from left, and other school board members listen to Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm during Tuesday’s school board meeting at Marshall Junior High School. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Easy to overlook, he stood on the edge of a group of parents and teachers, barely reaching past their elbows. Justin Chavez, 10, however, will be directly affected by Tuesday night’s school board vote. It will send him to the halls of an unfamiliar school in his fifth-grade year.

“It shouldn’t have happened. I’ve been going there for three years now and it’s the best. I just like something about the school,” said Chavez, his brown eyes watery and bloodshot.
Chavez attends Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy, which the Clovis School Board voted to merge with the larger Bella Vista Elementary in a 3-2 vote. Board member Lola Bryant and board president Terry Martin voted against the cost-cutting merger. The board also voted 3-2 to keep Ranchvale Elementary School open for the time being, with board members Max Best and Lora Harlan voting for the closure.

School officials said the proposal to close the rural school will be reintroduced to the board in January, in hopes Cannon Air Force Base will then have a more certain fate. The Pentagon was directed to look for a new mission for Cannon as part the 2005 base-closing process. Ranchvale is populated predominately by children of military personnel.

Punctuated by rounds of riotous applause, auditory gasps, and emotional pleas, the school board meeting drew about 100 community members to Marshall Junior High School auditorium. Mothers, fathers and school teachers lauded the benefits of smaller schools, while Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm defended the need to consolidate the district’s 13 elementary schools.

She said the proposals would have minimum impact on student performance and would reduce the effects of a projected $1.4 million budget shortfall. And more children, she argued, can now benefit from the successful arts-infused curriculum developed at Lincoln-Jackson, since the program will be housed on a larger campus.

It is a change many in the Bella Vista school community do not embrace.

“We are not receptive of (the arts-infused curriculum) coming to our school,” said Billie Castillo, whose child attends Bella Vista.

Castillo said she likes the current administration and structure at Bella Vista. She and other parents also criticized administration spending, citing administration salary increases and the purchase of two new administration vehicles.

Other Lincoln-Jackson and Bella Vista parents were too emotional to speak after the vote.

Board members labored over the votes for nearly two hours, listening to audience comments and later asking their own questions of administration.

“I have every confidence in the kids, that they are more adaptable to change than we give them credit,” said school board member Mark Lansford after voting for the merger.

Seidenwurm said Lincoln-Jackson and Bella Vista staff will be meeting soon to discuss the direction the new, combined school will follow in regards to curriculum and scheduling details. She said administration must present budget projections to the state education department in January.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
• The Title III Federal Program Application for Immigrant Funds 2005-2006 was unanimously approved by the board. Immigrant funds are awarded based upon significant increase in immigrant student population, according to information provided by school administration.

• Board members discussed three projects for Legislative funding. The projects include a Clovis High School fence, a vocational technical school, and a performing arts center for the Bella Vista campus.

• A $840,567 roofing bid for Sandia Elementary School was awarded to Newt & Butch Roofing and Sheet Metal, Inc.