Ready to jump into the mix of school boards around the nation, as well as here in New Mexico, determined to gain more local control, members of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education will included that wish among a handful of requests in resolution in time for the 30-day 2022 legislative session.

“This could be controversial,” opined board member Catherine Cullen, whose term is about to end and she’s not seeking re-election. “School boards have little authority … We’re basically a policy-making authority. Our only employee is the superintendent.”

Board members have been hearing from parents miffed that the governor’s latest public health order requires masks indoors at all schools, after the board of education opted previously to allow vaccinated students, staff members and others at the secondary schools to go without masks, with “mask passes” mandatory for those who had been vaccinated or had other valid reasons — such as a medical condition or doctor’s orders — to go without.

In light of the governor’s recent mandate, the board members received quite a few public comments — summarized by board President Amanda Galbraith before last Monday’s 9-minute meeting — denouncing the decision to have everyone masked and some even advised ignoring the decree.

“The Public Education Department has over-stepped their authority on a number of items within the school districts throughout the state,” Cullen said.

“(We need to) advocate for more local control,” said Wynne Coleman, like Cullen soon ending her stint on the board and not seeking another term.

Board members, of course, are wary in light of what happened to the school board in Floyd, N.M.

That five-member board was suspended after twice voting to disregard the NMPED’s COVID-19 Safe Practices for school re-entry. Floyd filed for a temporary restraining order after the PED filed suit against that school board, seeking First Judicial District Court intervention when the board refused to step down following its suspension.

But the TRO was denied. Ironically, since then one of the board member’s has tested positive for COVID-19, and said he won’t get vaccinated.

Also expected to be on the resolution, due to the New Mexico School Board Association on Sept. 13, are a request for more funding to provide improved students’ mental health and more funding for the transportation, running $1 million in the red this year.

The resolution, Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, will “let the legislature know what is important for our district for the (30-day) ‘22 session.”

The board also:
• Heard a presentation on the refunding of the series 2013 bonds, resulting in a savings of $20,000, and a resolution for authorizing the sale of $15 million from voters’ passage of the November 2019 bond, with funds from that available to the district Oct. 13.
• Commended Sparklight and its general manager, Jane Shanley, for connecting 800 families with internet service. “It was a team effort,” Shanley said. “We were happy to help — it was an adventure.”
• Was in favor of insurance policies, costing $22 per family, made available to parents to cover costs of broken Chromebooks, which they are responsible for. A new Chromebook costs $200; they are warranted for one year only. Apparently, residents’ dogs enjoy chewing up the power cords, which cost $20 — and parents have to pay for those out of their own pockets.
• Heard board President Amanda Galbraith sum up nearly three-dozen public comments board members had received, most of them dealing with objections to masks or the district canceling homecoming dances at Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools.

The board’s next meeting, which will be streamed online (rrps.net), will be Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer