Increasing enrollment and a high amount of staff vacancies were among the many numbers dealt with at the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education’s nearly four-hour meeting Monday.

Although enrollment in recent years had been leveling off, it dropped by more than 4 percent in the pandemic school year of 2020-21. Enrollment has been recovering for 2021-22, it was noted, but nowhere near the all-time high of 17,700 from the 2017-18 school year.

In-person enrollment, as of Monday and excluding any quarantined students, was 17,005, said Kim Vesely, assistant to Superintendent Sue Cleveland. She said 225 elementary students and 170 secondary students are being taught virtually.

Job openings include 37 additional educational assistant positions and 24 special education teacher slots, said Mike Chavez, executive director of Human Resources. Also sought are 10 custodians, a counselor, three health assistants and seven general education teachers.

“There aren’t any answers to this,” Cleveland said, buoyed by the fact that, “We’re hearing from the state (that) we’re going to have significant money next year as a state, and we hope one of the areas that the state will prioritize is education and compensation for educational employees.”

As they’d requested in August, board members heard first readings of five resolutions, dealing with: career-technical education for high school students; holding RRPS harmless for declining enrollment due to the pandemic; student transportation funding; adequate support and funding for school mental and behavioral health services; and requesting input into the uses of federal pandemic and infrastructure funding.

Another resolution, requesting increased compensation for educational assistants, might also be forthcoming to the board later this month, possibly, Cleveland suggested, as a “dummy bill” for the legislature.

Board member Catherine Cullen said the latter resolution should include increased compensation for custodians, “bumping up the pay” for workers who find better-paying jobs out of state.

“We’re not competitive in any of the operational areas,” Cleveland added.

In other business

The board also:

  • Commended the Rio Rancho Rotary Club for providing $30,000 for teachers tutoring students through the club’s Dick Hillier Tutoring Program;
  • Commended the HR department for its “creative efforts at recruitment and retention of staff during the pandemic,” termed “a real challenge” by Cleveland;
  • Heard an update on competency requirements for Class of 2022 graduates, and how RRPS received a waiver, lessening graduation credits from 26 to the state-required 24. Renee Saucedo, secondary school improvement officer, told the board that of the 1,182 students who graduated in May, only 65 of them had fewer than 26 credits, and the waiver decreasing credits is only for those who absolutely wouldn’t graduate “without this help.”
  • Approved the acceptance of a Graduation, Reality And Dual-role Skills (GRADS) grant for $10,000 for Independence High School students who are parents, keeping them also focused on school readiness;
  • Heard a presentation from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, with some of its members explaining its partnership with RRPS and how scholarships and programs can benefit students;
  • OK’d a joint powers agreement with the New Mexico School for the Deaf, renewing a long-standing agreement providing funding to enable hearing-impaired RRPS students to attend NMSD campuses in Santa Fe and Albuquerque; and
  • Gave first readings to minor changes in five policies, with second readings and approval expected at the board’s next meeting.

The next regular meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27. It’s uncertain if the meeting will be in-person or virtual. Either way, the live stream can be accessed online via rrps.net.

COVID update

The district notified parents through a Sept. 13 email that in August, there were 121 positive COVID-19 cases in schools where an individual was infectious while on campus. This month, as of Sept. 9, the district noted 57 positive COVID-19 cases.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer