Q&A: Marty Garcia

Editor’s note: Our newspaper misquoted Tucumcari school board member Marty Garcia recently. He did not say teachers’ salaries could be cut when the district goes to a four-day week this fall. A more accurate reflection of his thoughts: “I wonder how much support we would have had from teachers had the four-day week included a reduction in salaries.”
Garcia, 44, a Tucumcari native serving his second term on the board, spent time with Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico Editor David Stevens this week and talked about a wide variety of school issues, from the four-day week to the district’s future. Here are some highlights from that interview:

Question: You were the only board member opposed to the four-day week. You said more time is needed to study the issue. But hasn’t this been talked about for more than a year? What issues remain to be studied?
Garcia: As a board we asked the superintendent (William Reents) to provide information on a four-day week and we really never got anything. After we started looking into it, there’s really not much information out there. There have been very few studies on it and what studies have been done don’t show much data — mostly just opinions.
I can’t blame the superintendent for not bringing the information we asked for because there is just not any out there. I wanted to see programs in place. Dr. Reents and (an official with the Public Education Department) both recommended that we take our time with this and both said we needed to set schedules and get budgets straight. We were all geared up for a five-day week as far as schedules and budgets and we just jumped into (a four-day week). That was my concern.
But that’s in the past now and we’ve already voted on it and I want to move forward.

Q: At least one parent complained last school year that the district’s drug and alcohol policy is unfair, primarily in that suspension times vary depending on when students get caught violating the policy. Should the district re-evaluate the drug/alcohol policy?
Garcia: We’ve talked a little about it, myself personally with Dr. Reents. I don’t know that we’ve discussed it as a board. It’s very difficult to lessen the penalty on a drug infraction, but I personally hate to see the death penalty — that’s what I and another board member have called it in the past. You might have a student who goes out and does something stupid, and … gets kicked out of athletics and basically it’s the death penalty. But how do you change that without sending a message that it’s OK to do it one time? It’s a difficult choice to make.

Q: About 18 months ago, the district put five buildings up for sale, but they remain the district’s property. What has happened with that plan?
Garcia: We did put them out to bid once. We rejected the bids because the state education department suggested we remove asbestos before we sell them. The asbestos has been removed — most of it’s done if not all of it — and in the next couple of months they should go up for sale again.

Q: Talk a little about the state of Tucumcari schools as you see them. Is the district meeting its budget? Is it headed in the right direction to maintain state standards for testing?
Garcia: Dr. Reents I know is doing the best he can to get teachers in line with what’s required … (The state) has put so much burden on our schools and teachers and they spend so much time trying to meet regulations it seems like they forget about teaching sometimes. I know they don’t forget about it, but (the state mandates) take away from the classroom sometimes.
We are working on the facilities. We want to be able to provide the best possible environment for our students. I think we are headed in the right direction. I think Dr. Reents is a very good fiscal manager.

Q: What is the district’s primary challenge for the next few years?
Garcia: Recruiting teachers. Recruiting quality teachers. I think that’s a major challenge for us right now. I could name a few (other challenges), but that’s one primary challenge I can put my finger on. We try to do national searches … but it’s difficult to find those that want to come to rural areas. … There is just a shortage of teachers nationwide. Everybody wants good teachers.

Q: Superintendent Reents has been a finalist for two jobs with other districts in recent months. While he remains in Tucumcari, does the board have a plan in place should he leave?
Garcia: He is under contract for three years and basically that’s where we stand with him right now. We just extended his contract, and he’s on for three years. He says they (superintendents) have to stay active out there to be known. If it were to happen (that he leaves) we’d have no choice but to recruit (for another superintendent). For now, as far as I’m concerned, we have him on contract for three years.

Q: What motivates you to serve on the school board?
Garcia: The easy answer would be for my kids. I have two kids in the school district. But I care in general about the welfare of our kids and the welfare of our community. Being from Tucumcari, I just want to see that we do the best we can. It’s always for the kids.

Q: Talk a little about the school district’s role in helping students and families deal with society’s ills. Should the district be more involved or maybe less involved in issues that directly impact students’ lives such as teen pregnancies, alcoholism and illicit drug use? And if those challenges are issues the school district should concern itself with, what is the best way to help?
Garcia: I think we all need to play a part in raising our kids and setting an example. We can’t just say we’re going to separate the school from the community. The school needs to play a part in (the community). That includes being examples, being role models for these kids. I think kids obviously need to be taught consequences of (their mistakes).
It’s just my personal opinion, but I have asked that we consider teaching the Bible as literature, which is allowed in (public) schools.
There are so many young parents that could use programs and different things to help them be better parents. We all just need to play a part (in raising children) — whether it’s actually done in the school system or through the school system, it has to be a community effort.

Q: Final thoughts:
Garcia: Sometimes we don’t agree on things. But that’s America. We don’t have to agree on every issue. That’s what makes America great is our diversity.