Rio Rancho Public School Superintendent Sue Cleveland.
File photo

Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland got a boost in pay, receiving 2 percent and 6 percent raises for the 2018-19 and coming school years, respectively, matching that of the state’s teachers, at the school board meeting Monday evening.

The board also heard reports from the Research, Assessment, Data & Accountability and Information Technology departments; approved a couple of costly new measures; and decided against inking a four-year contract with lobbyist Cris Balzano.

RADA Executive Director Happy Miller told the board, with all five members in attendance, that her department was focused on accountability and “how do we create a well-rounded profile of the student?” while acknowledging the need for valid, accurate data.

Miller told the board there will no longer be grades for schools and that a new system, in which parents can observe information on each school via “dashboards” online, will be implemented soon.

“It’s hard to plan for an uncertain future,” she said. “There are so many different factors …. (it’s) hard to determine why students improve.”

IT Executive Director Paul Romero had a glowing report, informing the board that by 2021, “100 percent of classrooms will have access to equitable technology” and estimated the district is close to 82 percent of the way there.

Unfortunately, he said, for many students, their only opportunity to interact with technology, especially the internet, is at school. Romero said more than 15,000 Chromebooks were distributed to students to be used in the classrooms in the 2018-19 school year, with more on the way.

The IT department, which has a one-hour response time for technology issues, is upgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 10, he said, and a digital resource catalog assembled by Terri Meier, the director of educational technology, can be a valuable resource for teachers seeking helpful apps for their classrooms.

In other good news, Romero noted, reimbursements from the federal government, which ultimately come from surcharges on wireless bills, have supplemented numerous projects and are estimated to reduce by about one-half the cost to implement state-of-the-art technology in the to-be-built Joe Harris Elementary.

An important goal of his department for the coming school year, Romero said, is network security.

Although Cleveland’s end-of-year evaluation wasn’t discussed, it was apparent she’ll be retained in light of the 2 and 6 percent raises she was handed. Her basic contract calls for a salary of $196,524 for 2019-20, and with the benefits package and various outlays for membership in organizations, travel and professional training, the total annual value increases to about $225,000.

The board voted 5-0 to approve her salary.

The board then briefly discussed the need and advantages of having veteran educator Hugh Prather back on board as a consultant, for an hourly fee of $150, capped at 25 hours and including expenses and gross receipts taxes.

Prather, who was an interim superintendent before Cleveland came on board in 1994, will help board members “apply the best practices of school board governance.”

The board approved Prather’s role by a 5-0 vote.

Dissension was evident when it came time to approve the contract for “government relation services” for Cris Balzano, the district’s current lobbyist at the Roundhouse.

Balzano Government Relations was one of four replying to a request for proposals. It ranked first among the four applicants but for a price of $53,000 — $5,000 more than the budget allocated.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Baker assured board members the additional $5,000 could be made up from unrestricted cash, and noted that the budgeted amount was based on previous years.

“We can make that happen,” Baker said.

But board members weren’t satisfied about what was to be a four-year contract for Balzano, and even more perturbed that no board member had served on the committee that had reviewed and evaluated all four proposals.

Because of that, the contract for a lobbyist wasn’t approved. Cleveland stressed the importance of having one on board before the next legislative session because of matters in legislative committees, setting the stage for possible legislation in early 2020.

“You have to have confidence in your lobbyist,” Cleveland added. “Things (in Santa Fe) can happen so quickly — literally, it changes every hour sometimes.”

“We have to look at changing what we do here,” board member Ramon Montaño said, before being added with fellow board member Ryan Parra to the committee evaluating the next RFP responders for lobbyist services. “I think it’s crucial to see some of that (behind the scenes). (But) I think he’s done a great job.”

The district will work quickly to issue another RFP and, hopefully, get someone on board soon, with a time frame of 30-45 days estimated to obtain the proposals from potential lobbyists.

Lastly, the board heard the first reading of a new policy (703), subtitled “required employment documentation, penalties, training and experience,” outlined by Human Resources Executive Director Sue Passell.

Before the meeting ended, the Observer learned John Francis has been named the new executive director of the district’s transportation department, replacing Maurice Ross. Ross recently resigned to become an assistant principal at Rio Rancho Elementary.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 on Monday, July 22.