East chief out on sick leave

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Acting superintendent, Flores, running district

By Mercy Lopez

Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez’s chair was filled by another school district administrator during a special board meeting on Tuesday morning. Her absence has some people wondering whether a change in leadership may be on the horizon for the east-side school district.

During the meeting, board President Gloria Lovato Pacheco announced that Lydia Flores, the district’s bilingual and federal programs director, was named acting superintendent by McNellis-Martinez. McNellis-Martinez is scheduled to return to her superintendent duties at the end of the month.

The board also voted unanimously to suspend a district policy that would have required it to take action on extending the superintendent’s contract by the end of  January. Her current contract expires at the end of this school year.

It is unclear when the board will take action on McNellis-Martinez’s contract; however, according to the district’s open meetings policy, the board meets for a work session the second Thursday of each month and holds regular board meetings on the third Thursday of each month.

Messages left for McNellis-Martinez on her district and personal cell phones had not been returned as of press time. Lovato Pacheco declined to comment further on the issue, saying it is a personnel matter.

But a recording of Tuesday’s meeting obtained by the Optic through a public records request sheds light on the situation.

“I received a memorandum from Sheryl McNellis-Martinez on Saturday, January 18 at 12:25 p.m. indicating that she will be gone and (she) further indicated that during her absence Ms. (Lydia) Flores will act on her stead for day to day contact,” Lovato Pacheco said at the meeting. “So, we are to direct our calls to you (Flores). It is my understanding ... that Ms. Flores has been designated acting superintendent by Mrs. McNellis-Martinez. With that all duties and responsibilities of a superintendent will be yours, Ms. Flores.”

But the news did not sit well with board members, as they appeared ready to take action on McNellis-Martinez’s contract during that meeting.

According to the meeting agenda, the board met specifically to discuss three items: McNellis-Martinez’s evaluation, her contract and the approval for the placement of sod on the district’s baseball field.

Board secretary Gabe Lucero asked if Flores was OK in taking the superintendent’s responsibilities during McNellis-Martinez’s absence.

Flores said she agreed to take over the responsibilities.

Board members also expressed concern over various issues plaguing the district, including the 2013-14 budget, a request for emergency supplemental funding from the state Public Education Department, the status of funding the district received for an activity bus during last year’s legislative session, and the district’s capital outlay requests for this year’s legislature.

Lovato Pacheco said her immediate concern is emergency supplemental funding, and she directed Flores to work with PED Deputy Secretary Paul Aguilar on the funding request. District officials have previously said the money is needed to help the district get through the school year.

“I will do my best to keep the board informed and to see where we are at, especially now with the legislative session,” Flores said. “I know the requests by the board especially wanting to continue to request emergency supplemental monies and to explore those avenues with the saga of RFRs (Requests for Reimbursements) and to work the best I can in Mrs. McNellis-Martinez’s absence. She is a tremendous wealth of information and I will do my best in her absence.”

In other business: The board expressed its concern about procurement procedures the district plans to use regarding the installation of sod in the district’s baseball field. Board member Felix Alderete said he just wants to ensure the district follows proper procedure.

District co-curricular director Juan Carlos Fulgenzi said that given the safety issues involved, it is appropriate for the district to follow emergency procurement procedures. Fulgenzi said the baseball season starts soon, and the district needs to make sure the field is ready for practice.

His statements were echoed by district Finance Director Mari Hillis, who said the district cannot go through normal procurement procedures because of the turnaround time needed. She said the project is important for the safety and health of athletes and coaches using the field.

Alderete said the finance committee has concerns about the item not following the normal procurement process. He said the committee reviewed three quotes, but they went above a $60,000 price tag. He said it is  his understanding that any purchase that exceeds $50,000 needs to follow the invitation to bid or request for proposals process.

Hillis said the district can use the emergency procurement rule for this particular expense because it deals with health and safety issues.

She also said the district is working with the city to ensure it is able to receive enough water from the city to water the sod. She said if they are unable to ensure the water, the district will then go with the regular procurement process for the sodding of the baseball field.

“Because of the timing of it, that’s why we are trying to justify it as an emergency procurement,” Hillis said.