Conflict of interest issues rise at school board

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Monday night's Socorro Consolidated Schools board meeting was dominated by discussion about conflict of interest issues affecting board members, board travel to workshops and conferences, and a resolution requesting the Public Education Department to give the district more time to implement accountability measures.

Board member Pauline Jaramillo, whose plumbing company does business with the district, wanted the Aug. 26, minutes amended to include comments made by Superintendent Randall Earwood.

The original minutes referred to a discussion about board members who do business with the district serving on the finance/audit committee. At that meeting, board president Ann Shiells went on the record as opposing such membership because of the risk of possible conflict of interest. At Monday's meeting, Jaramillo asked that Earwood's comments "because we're a small community, we always run the risk with all board members at some point or another" be added to the minutes. The changes were approved unanimously.

The board policy for school board member travel to conferences, workshops and conventions was presented by Earwood with a do-pass recommendation. Shiells asked to amend the policy to allow funding for members to participate in state Public Education Department mandated training and state school board association meetings, but require prior board approval, based on the availability of funds, for attendance at out-of-state meetings, giving those who have never attended national events priority.

Shiells also proposed adding a provision requiring a board member attending meetings or workshops to give an oral presentation to the board at the first regular school board meeting following the event. The board voted unanimously to approve the amended policy.

Earwood presented a "Resolution of General Concern" that Albuquerque and Rio Rancho superintendents asked superintendents all across the state to present to their boards for adoption.

Earwood said districts and educators across the state agree that changes need to happen, but that PED is going at it at a very fast rate, and some changes have not been implemented correctly. As an example, he said the state originally gave districts until Oct. 15 to have all their teacher observations completed, but had to move the deadline back to Nov. 1, and technical difficulties still persist.

Board member Kim Gonzales pointed out the resolution seems redundant, since problems with deadlines typically get ironed out over time. Socorro High School teacher Azza Ezzat, representing the high school faculty, requested the board sign the resolution, saying teachers need a one-year transition to the new teacher evaluation system. She pointed out that teachers have lot to deal with already with the Common Core standards implementation. Earwood agreed with the ideas presented in the resolution, but warned that aligning with Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho may further politicize education in New Mexico. The board requested Earwood to draft a separate resolution for the board to consider at its next meeting.

In other business:

• Board members voted to accept the consent agenda, with Pauline Jaramillo abstaining from voting on Jaramillo Plumbing vouchers and Ann Shiells abstaining on the Cooperative Education Services vouchers.

• The board discussed the renewal and change to the lease agreement between Mid-West New Mexico Community Action Program located on Spring Street and Socorro Consolidated Schools scheduled to end Dec. 31. N.M. Mid-West CAP is a non-profit organization providing services to the community, including a food pantry and Head Start.

The organization asked to reduce the rent from $300 to $100 per month and renew the five-year lease, and agreed to continue to pay for utilities and minor repairs.

Earwood advised accepting the offer, saying the group provides valuable community services. Board member James Chavez suggested reducing the rent to $1 per month. Executive director of finance and operations Donald Monette suggested letting the group use the facility at no charge, and the board agreed if the group is willing to pay for all building maintenance and repair. The item was tabled until the next board meeting.

• The board discussed ways to review district policies in a timely way to keep them more current, including paying for an outside contractor to review the policies. Action on the item was tabled.