SHIPROCK — Members of the Kirtland community group Children First have gathered the necessary signatures on a petition to split the Central Consolidated School District into two districts, likely along the reservation line.
The signatures, which number nearly 3,000, must be verified by the San Juan County Clerk’s Office before being forwarded to the state Public Education Department. The district’s governing board also has to approve the split, according to state law.
Children First, formed in May to oppose the district’s plan to close the Kirtland Business Office, announced to the CCSD board Tuesday that 60 percent of voters in the Kirtland area have signed a petition in favor of creating a new school district.
According to the group, about 85 percent of voters in the area, when approached, agreed to sign the petition. The petition asks the state education department to investigate the creation of a separate district with its own administrative offices and superintendent, based in Kirtland.
Angela Slone, a member of Children First, told the board during the public comments period of Tuesday’s meeting that the split would create better education opportunities for Kirtland-area students and bring “sanity” back to the district. Slone’s comments are the first public disclosure from the group that it has gathered the necessary signatures.
“This desire for our own district is not about race or religion, as some would have you believe,” Slone said. “It’s about
bringing sanity, proper role modeling and true accountability to the schools and to our children. We believe that this will provide our students the greatest opportunity of moving forward, aspiring for higher education goals and going out to meet the world on equal footing with students from around the country and around the world.”
The petition, however, is contrary to direction from the state PED.
Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s education secretary-designate, informed the group in a July 20 letter that splitting the district is not the answer.
“Too often in education, disagreements between adults are allowed to escalate to the point where we lose sight of the impact on our students,” she wrote. “Dividing the Central Consolidated School District appears to be the wrong thing to do to our students. Instead of one district, there would be the same amount of students who would then have to be supported by two administrations. To divide up scarce dollars because adults can’t work out their differences would be a near tragic outcome for our kids.”
The education department can create a new school district after a governing board approves a resolution seeking a new district and after 60 percent of registered voters residing in the geographic area desiring creation of a new district have signed a petition.
Creation of a new district also must be in the best interest of public education in the existing school district and the proposed new one. That means both proposed districts must meet basic criteria under state statute before the state would consider creating a new district.
The Kirtland and Shiprock areas each could stand alone, according to the statute, which mandates each district have at least 500 members and an operating high school. The PED would determine whether creating a new district is in the best interest of public education, the state and both districts.
Although she acknowledged community members’ right to pursue creation of a new district in her July letter, Skandera does not recommend such action.
“The law provides an avenue for parents to create a new district if they feel differences can’t be overcome,” she wrote. “If the residents of Kirtland feel this is the only solution, then they should pursue this option.”
The board did not respond Tuesday to Slone’s comments.
Distributed by MCT Information Services