School board may relax public comment policy
January 26, 2022
Several members of the Tucumcari Public Schools board discussed loosening its two-year-old policy regarding public comment at meetings.
The board in November 2019 changed its policy regarding public participation in board meetings. Those who wish to comment before the board must complete a Request to Address Board form and give it to the superintendent before the meeting. The board president may set a time limit of three minutes per speaker or 30 minutes for a presentation.
The policy also states “only items on the current agenda will be permitted to be addressed.” It also states: “Personal attacks upon Board members, staff personnel or other persons in attendance or absent by individuals who address the board are discouraged. Presenters are cautioned that statements or representations concerning others that convey an unjustly unfavorable impression may subject the presented to civil action for defamation.”
Board member Jerry Lopez during the board’s Jan. 17 meeting asked whether it could hold a special work session to hear input from the public.
“I know we want to control the meeting, but we have constituents who want to be heard,” he said.
Newly elected board president Heather Gonzales agreed.
“We have parents who come in and feel handcuffed,” she said.
Lopez added if the board is concerned about public comments becoming unruly, it can station a police officer or sheriff’s deputy to maintain order.
Superintendent Aaron McKinney, while cautioning about the board becoming “bombarded” with comments at future meetings, suggested making it a discussion item at the board’s February meeting where the board perhaps can set guidelines.
McKinney also said parents should continue to come his office to discuss problems, where he can solve them “99% of them time.”
Logan Municipal Schools has a public comment policy similar to Tucumcari’s. According to a copy of the policy provided by superintendent Dennis Roch, individuals must fill out a request form for public comment on Thursday before the board’s meeting the following Monday.
Presentations at Logan are limited to 30 minutes or five minutes for each individual speaker. It discourages personal attacks on board members, personnel or people in attendance or be subject to civil action for defamation.
San Jon Municipal Schools superintendent Janet Gladu said public speakers at board meetings simply are limited to five minutes each.
“We have never had anyone utilize the 5 minutes,” Gladu stated in an email.
News outlets nationwide reported last fall about school board meetings becoming more unruly, with instances of assaults and threats over issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, masks and critical race theory. The National School Board Association requested a review of the problem by federal law enforcement officials.
In other business:
• Tucumcari Municipal Judge Christopher Maestas administered the oath of office to new board member Robert Lucero at the beginning of the meeting. Lucero defeated Cassie Huffman in the November election for the seat. Lucero replaced Leif Gray, who did not run for re-election.
In a reorganization of the board, members elected Gonzales as president, Bo Wallace as vice president and Lopez as secretary. Lopez and Wallace were named to the audit committee, Lopez and Matthew Pacheco to the finance committee, Lucero and Gonzales to the calendar committee and Pacheco and Wallace to the textbook committee.
• McKinney said the district is using more rapid COVID-19 testing of personnel that provides results within 15 to 30 minutes.
Veronica Hernandez, central office staff member, said the district no longer is using the mail-in Vault tests because getting results takes too long and they’re not as accurate.
McKinney said absences due to COVID-19 haven’t been acute enough to warrant all-remote learning at the district. High school principal Nicole Bright-Lesly said the positive rate for the virus at last count stood at 7.9%.
• The board approved the district’s annual audit report presented via teleconference by Terry Ogle of Accounting and Financial Solutions of Farmington.
Ogle said the audit showed “no material inconsistencies” and was “a good, clean report.”
The audit cited one finding regarding cash reconciliation. McKinney explained the problem was due to a new teacher who who did not know money was required to be deposited within 24 hours.
• Answering a question from Wallace, McKinney said he will receive revised architect drawings of the $3 million baseball and softball field redevelopment project and will have a meeting with the firm this week.
McKinney said he’s looking at alternate construction options for the project. “I thinking of ways to cut costs,” he said, noting construction costs have risen sharply during the pandemic.
McKinney said he would have made the project more of a discussion item in last week’s meeting, except he was quarantined until the previous Friday due to testing positive for COVID-19.
• During a review of financial statements, Lopez asked why the district’s $133,000 activities fund remained in a Citizens Bank account that paid no interest. He suggested an interest-bearing account at another bank.
McKinney said the district tries to keep its accounts spread among the city’s banks, and pulling money from that “makes for bad relations” because Citizens Bank covers expenses for occasional school items. Bright-Lesly said that included mini-diplomas for graduates that cost between $800 to $1,000.
• In a routine matter, the board approved its annual conflict-of-interest disclosure forms for officers or employees for the district.