School board hears about awards, transportation deficit

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education recognized three people for exceptional efforts to help students succeed at its meeting Monday night.

The regular meeting, which preceded a workshop, lasted less than a half-hour, with Chief Operations Officer Mike Baker sitting in for Superintendent Sue Cleveland, off to a conference in Dallas.

The meeting was highlighted by nominations for New Mexico School Board Association “Excellence in Student Achievement Awards” for two key school district employees and one key supporter — Elizabeth Jacome, Maurice Ross and Sal LiRosi.

Lauding their accomplishments, Carl Leppelman, the district’s chief academic officer, bullet-pointed the trio’s accomplishments:

• Jacome, the executive director of elementary curriculum and instruction, puts in “countless hours,” Leppelman said.

• LiRosi, the owner-operator of Sal-E-Boy’s Pizza, has not only had two children graduate from Rio Rancho High School and two graduate from Cleveland High School, but also provides food for student-athletes and the media at CHS football games. “If you need anything, Sal is there for you,” Leppelman said of LiRosi.

• Ross, the RRPS executive director of transportation, decided after his military career he hadn’t done enough community service, Leppelman said, and has been in his position for eight years. “In order for your kids to learn, he’s got to get them there,” he said. “He’s all about the kids.”

The board also heard about the new eSports competition statewide high schools are participating in. Board Vice President Ramon Montaño said he wanted to hear more about it and the estimated $200,000 fellow member Ryan Parra had hoped to invest in the online competition.

“We were looking at it from an academic point of view,” said Paul Romero, IT executive director. “There could be a double use … It’s at least worth investigating.”

Montaño was wondering if there would be any revenue derived from student participation in the new competition, sanctioned for the first time in the 2018-19 school year by the New Mexico Activities Association.

As for the workshop, it consisted of reports from Ross and Human Resources Executive Director Sue Passell.

Ross told about his department, from transporting 8,500 students — about half of the district’s enrollment — on a daily basis to the need for more buses, including the replacement of the four activities buses and adding two more.

He also told of the district’s obligation for transporting homeless students, the addition of 22 new bus drivers, with 10 of a dozen new trainees already certified and behind the wheel. The other two drivers will test after spring break, Ross noted.

Ross also told of his department’s “random drug-testing program that’s not so random,” and his department’s challenges, including retaining drivers.

Because he is close to the RRHS boys basketball program, Montaño wondered about the new policy to bus student-athletes several hours before game times to Cibola High School, for example, with players losing classroom time to basically sit around before their games. Wouldn’t there be a better way to coordinate their transportation?

Until the state fully funds student transportation, Ross said, he expects the department will often be $1 million in the red, although he was hopeful the just-concluded legislative session will offer positive news after the governor has signed pending bills.

Ross told the board that bus advertising, a New Mexico Administrative Code

A school bus heads to pick up students Wednesday afternoon. Transportation Executive Director Maurice Ross said bus-ad revenue comes from the UNM Department of Emergency Medicine, Presbyterian Medical Services’ Rio Rancho Family Health Center, the New Mexico Department of Energy and Minerals, and the state Department of Health, which has its ad on this bus. Photo by Gary Herron.

regulation approved seven years ago, has resulted in revenue of $180,000. Of that amount, half was paid to the marketing company that gathered advertisers and the other half to the state’s Public Education Department, which was then to return 60 percent of its share to RRPS “to support technology,” Ross said.

The 40 percent retained by the PED was supposed to be allocated to the state’s middle schools for extracurricular activities, but Ross said the state hasn’t moved forward with collecting the money. Thus, the only district in the state with bus advertising hasn’t benefited financially from it.

Ross also replied, when a member asked about potential liability issues with RRPS having its own mechanics, that they’re all certified, “all highly qualified” and help save money, compared to what it would cost to out-source bus repairs.

“We should not be operating in the red,” Montaño stressed. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”

He added that more discussions with the PED may be necessary to help resolve the transportation deficit.

“If we were a business, we’d have to put a ‘closed’ sign on the door,” he added.

Passell brought in most of her staff, and explained what’s new in her department.

She said HR has greatly increased its efforts to attract teachers for the district, but in spite of the efforts of Educators Rising, which aims to entice high school students into someday becoming teachers, “We are struggling to find people.”

Also, she cautioned, in light of the teacher evaluations no longer penalizing what are thought to be excessive absences, the budget for substitutes could be overspent.

Four meetings scheduled for April, each at 5:30 p.m., are “special” meetings on April 1 and 12, and “regular” meetings on April 8 and 22.