RIO RANCHO, N.M. — As if things weren’t going badly already for schools across the U.S., and elsewhere, Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland had more bad news for the school board at its Aug. 10 meeting.
Enrollment is down this year, which is an issue because funding is based on the number of students.
“It could be a very large problem for next year,” she said, adding that districts are funded for previous-year enrollment, instead of current-year enrollment, “unless a one-year grace from the legislature” changes things.
Cleveland said she was hopeful that could be enacted to make up for this unique school year, with the pandemic. The enrollment for the last school year was in the neighborhood of 17,700.
“We have been monitoring the numbers as they come in, and they appear to be lower,” said Beth Pendergrass, chief communications, strategy and engagement officer. “We will not know where we really stand until (this) week at the earliest, when the dust settles. In the past, parents have been able to go in directly to the school to turn in registration documents, etc. This year, it all had to be completed online, so there could be some delays there as well. It is not apples to apples, this year to last year, at this point.”
In her update before the board got down to business, Cleveland said schedules are still being worked out, thanks to a lot of late registrations. Lockers — “breeding grounds for all kinds of things,” she said — won’t be issued this year. Board member Catherine Cullen questioned safety in the classrooms.
Cleveland also said textbook distribution has been “a slow process,” and Chromebooks are still being distributed. The district is seeking a “higher level” of personal protective equipment for staff members working with higher-risk students.
Also, the district is working hard to find a way to “pool” substitute teachers at individual schools instead of having them move among campuses. If a sub were to test positive after being in classrooms at several schools in a given week, that could have bad consequences.
And, Cleveland said, bus sign-ups begin Monday, although students riding the same bus as in the 2019-20 school year won’t have to register again.
In business matters, the board:
• Had first readings for changes being made to Policy 100 (Compulsory School Attendance); Policy 102 (School Attendance); Policy 1004 (Title IX, in which the district’s athletics director, Larry Chavez, told the Observer, “As far as I know, we have not had any Title IX complaints associated with athletics that I can recall.”); and Policy 808 (Armed Security Personnel). All policies are on the district’s website, rrps.net.
• Approved a comprehensive support and intervention grant for Independence High School to provide extended learning opportunities.
• Decided to “copy” and submit to the state Public Education Department and Department of Health “a resolution in support of localized health data transparency for school re-entry criteria” written by Las Cruces Public Schools. The data that district is asking to share are the rate of COVID-19 spread, number of tests per day, number of positive tests per day, time from a positive test to isolation of the patient and time from positive test result to quarantine of case contacts.
Cleveland recommended that the board enact an identical resolution, saying she hoped other districts would do likewise, eliminating “competing resolutions” for the legislature to ultimately consider.
The board voted 5-0 to prepare an identical resolution to the LCPS school board’s document.
• Approved the sale of at least $15 million in general-obligation bonds, approved by voters last year, part of a $60 million GO bond request.
Chief Operating Officer Mike Baker said he would have more specific details on how the proceeds would be spent at the board’s next meeting. The notice of proposal to issue the GO bonds said proceeds would be “for the purpose of erecting, remodeling, making additions to and furnishing school buildings, purchasing or improving school grounds, purchasing computer software and hardware for student use … providing matching funds for capital outlay projects funded pursuant to the Public School Capital Outlay Act.”
Dating back to the beginning of the district in 1994, voters have approved nine GO bond requests for a total of $418.8 million.
The board’s next virtual meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24.
Not everyone is happy
In the public comment session, of five emails received by the board, one expressed “virtual” outrage. Chris Fisher said she wanted “to express my disgust and frustration.”
Although from recent Facebook posts, it seems many parents are on board with RRPS’s strategy to “open” the schools, albeit online till after Labor Day, Fisher said, “You have had enough time to pull together a learning program for our children; the fact that we are getting so many last-minute changes tells me not enough planning went into this.
“The direction changes hourly on the way the children are to start their first day of school, by not clarifying you post for either the hybrid model or 100 percent virtual, you are causing mass confusion with parents and within the RRPS district.
“I expect more from the Board of Directors (sic) and I am holding you accountable to do your jobs; if you are going to make something mandatory, you better make sure that you have a clear written process of how to follow it.”