Constituent policy

School board plans to change feedback policy

The Tucumcari Public Schools superintendent said he would present proposed revisions to the school board’s public comment policy — including possibly allowing voters to submit written comments — at the board’s next meeting in March.

The board at its February 21 meeting discussed options for the policy, but it was not an action item on its agenda. Board member Jerry Lopez had called for a discussion of the policy at the January meeting, saying it was too restrictive and “we have constituents who want to be heard.”

In November 2019, the board amended its policy for public participation in board meetings. Those wishing to make representations to the Board should complete a Board Address Request Form and submit it to the Superintendent prior to the meeting. The Chairman of the Board may set a time limit of three minutes per speaker or 30 minutes for a presentation.

The policy also states that “only items on the current agenda may be dealt with.” It also states: “Personal attacks on board members, staff or others present or absent by persons addressing the board are discouraged. Presenters are cautioned that statements or representations about others that create an unfairly adverse impression may subject the presenter to civil action for defamation.

The public consultation policy of municipal schools in Logan is broadly similar to that of Tucumcari.

Superintendent Aaron McKinney said the board can make changes to the policy if they wish. He cautioned, however, that if a teacher was mentioned in the public comments who was not present, that educator would have no due process to resolve the issue.

“Once they’ve spoken, you can’t go back,” he said. “I saw them leave, slam the door and say things they shouldn’t have said.”

McKinney also said that since the New Mexico Legislature abolished qualified immunity last year, individual board members could be subject to lawsuits.

McKinney said he instead encourages aggrieved parents to request a private meeting with him or other administrators to resolve their issues.

After reviewing the current policy, Lopez said few changes are needed. He indicated that he still wanted less restrictive rules on public comments.

“I know you have to keep control” of the meetings, he said. “I feel like we’re limiting these people’s ability to speak. … As elected officials, we still have to listen to these people.

Board member Heather Gonzales noted that a parent can still tag and “snap” a teacher on social media.

Deputy Superintendent Dave Johnson suggested that voters be required to register for public comment on the Thursday before the board’s regular Monday meeting. He said such a requirement would encourage a meeting with administrators at the unit office.

McKinney suggested voters register for public comment on the Tuesday before the regular council meeting, which is usually the third Monday of every month. McKinney suggested the possibility of public comments being put in writing, which would be an exhibit for the council.

McKinney said he would consult with the district’s political adviser on the proposed changes to the policy and then present them before the council’s next scheduled meeting on March 14 at 6 p.m. The March council meeting date was moved from March 21 due to a conflict with the district’s spring break.

In other cases:

• During board member comments, Robert Lucero and Gonzales said they and several constituents were unhappy with the lack of notification of the Feb. 17 lifting of the state’s inland mask mandate.

“Communication could always be better,” Gonzales said.

The district announced that day on Facebook and on school intercoms that masks were optional.

McKinney said he was reluctant to notify board members via mass text message because any sort of mass response would lead to a continued quorum and violate state open meeting law. He said that next time he would send a mass text message with a message not to reply to avoid the problem.

McKinney said he decided to act quickly that day to make masks optional. He said the high school wrestling team was set to enter the state tournament and he didn’t want those athletes wearing masks and being at a disadvantage.

Johnson said the effectiveness of the district’s mass texting system remains sporadic, with a number of parents or students not receiving text messages. McKinney said the district will soon update its website, which will make mass texting easier.

• McKinney said a land titles company recently completed work on the city and county property required for the $3 million baseball stadium redevelopment project and the district is expected to receive its land documents. Albuquerque act shortly.

He said once the district receives the deed, construction on the project should begin “immediately” with bids received within 15 days.

McKinney said he would soon meet with the district’s financial adviser on the possibility of another $3 million bond issue to complete the remaining work on the project. Construction costs have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

• McKinney said the installation of air conditioning units at Tucumcari Elementary School is delayed from a planned start in May to June at the earliest. Supply chain issues have caused the postponement of many such projects. McKinney said the installation may also require shutting down one wing at a time.

• School board member Bo Wallace suggested that principals nominate students for the New Mexico School Boards Association Achievement Award.

• In current business, the council approved a resolution on open meetings and a resolution that authorizes the signatures of council members and employees for district bank accounts.