Base commander expresses concerns about school growth option

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis Municipal School’s Board of Education heard a presentation from Wilson and Company Engineers and Architects of Albuquerque on the possibility of building a third middle school, allowing CMS to add sixth-grades to the middle school mix.

But the speakers that preceded Wilson and Company at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting were interested in exploring options to move freshmen to Clovis High School.

The meeting at Parkview Elementary stretched more than three-and-a-half hours — much longer than a traditional campus visitation meeting — as the divergent proposals and opinions were heard.

Former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley of Clovis, a member of the facility committee, said there were numerous options the school board needed to consider for growth management. He mentioned building a new elementary school, or building a new ninth-grade center at the current Clovis High School campus.

Bradley said the only school system with a makeup similar to Clovis — one high school and a separate ninth-grade academy — was Hobbs, and that city recently voted by a 90 percent majority to move freshmen back to the Hobbs High School campus.

“It creates an island,” Bradley said of the freshman campus. “It isolates them; they’re not quite junior high, and they’re not quite high school.”

Col. Tim Leahy, commander of Cannon Air Force Base, said he is hearing two concerns from personnel potentially moving in to the area — housing and school systems.

Parents are concerned, Leahy said, because of the area’s performance on No Child Left Behind, and most have never seen a system with a separate freshman academy.

Clovis abandoned its three-school junior high (grades 7-9) system in 2007 and turned Gattis Junior High into CHS Freshman Campus.

The freshman campus, Leahy said, is a “lightning rod” for complaints because parents feel a freshman campus is one more transition on top of transitions already thrust upon military children.

“They don’t like the ninth-grade academy,” Leahy said. “They don’t understand the ninth-grade academy. They don’t want to send their kids to a ninth-grade academy, because it’s just different.”

Leahy said the complaints are to some extent hearsay and he’s not sure if a freshman campus at the high school would be the best solution — but based on parent concerns, he’d be willing to help out in any way on a plan that puts freshmen at CHS.

Leahy said the more distractions — like school system complaints — he could eliminate, the more focused his personnel are.

The school district expects to see a 2014-15 student population of 9,855, up from this year’s count of 7,981, with the impact of Cannon’s transition to Air Force Special Operations Command.

But Leahy reiterated at the meeting that those numbers assume multiplying factors applied to the incoming personnel estimates. Leahy said there are no hard numbers regarding students possibly coming to Cannon, because there’s no telling who’s single and who has a family that could stay behind for various reasons (i.e. trouble selling their previous house, or not moving a kid before senior year of high school).

“We don’t track kids,” Leahy said. “We track active military personnel,” and information on dependents doesn’t show up until assignments are confirmed.

The middle school proposal, Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said, is to build a third middle school and have the school — along with Yucca and Marshall Middle Schools — house grades 6-8.

With sixth-graders leaving their current elementary schools, Seidenwurm said those campuses would regain some capacity — about 50-60 per elementary school — and the district could have a few years to study where or if it would need to build an additional elementary school.

This year’s second-graders would be the first sixth-graders under the change.

Wilson and Company lead architect Bill Davis said his company could help the school district build a new middle school using a lease-purchase agreement which would have the builder front the capital and allow the school to pay for the building with future mill levy funds — provided voters gave a vote of confidence at the ballot box.

“In finance, we assign a value to time,” said Kevin Powers of RBC Capital in Albuquerque, which handles many financial matters for the district. “If you could have saved four years four or five years ago, you’d have saved 25 percent (on construction costs).”

Other highlights for Tuesday’s meeting:

• The board voted to accept a gift of a scoreboard from The Bank of Clovis to be used for high school softball games. The bank will pay all installation costs associated with the scoreboard, and Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said the old scoreboard could either be donated to a smaller school or auctioned.

• Kevin Powers of RBC Capital, which handles many financial matters for the district, said low interest rates mean the district has an opportunity to refinance outstanding debts.

Powers likened it to refinancing a home, where the debt owed on a higher interest rate could be paid off using another loan with a lower interest rate.

He said the district could save $365,000 in interest costs, with very conservative estimates.