Las Vegas City Schools board candidates faced off in a forum on Wednesday evening.
The hot topic of the forum was the four-day school week the district enacted this school year after a split board vote in late June.
Participating in Wednesday’s forum were: Position 1 candidates Ernesto J. Salazar and Sean Medrano; Gabe Lucero, who is running unopposed for his current Position 2 seat; and Position 5 candidates: Luis Ortiz, Alexis Mamaux and Carlos A. Perea.
Las Vegas resident and retired educator Martha Johnson moderated the forum, which was organized by the district. The district plans to post candidates’ written responses on its website: cybercardinal.com. The responses hadn’t yet been posted as of Thursday morning.
During the hour-and-a-half long forum held at the city of Las Vegas Council Chambers candidates were asked several questions the district provided to them prior to the forum. A handful of additional questions were submitted from the roughly 30 audience members, a mix of concerned voters and family, friends and supporters of candidates.
Lucero provided the audience with a four-minute introduction about himself. He didn’t participate in the question and answer segments because he’s running unopposed.
Salazar voiced his continued opposition to the four-day school week.
He and Lucero voted against the four-day school week in June. Current board members Elaine Luna and Gloria Lovato Pacheco voted in favor of Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez’s proposal to switch to the four-day school week with the tie-breaking vote in favor of the changed coming from board President Felix Alderete.
McNellis-Martinez initially said in April that the four-day week was being proposed to provide district staff with additional professional development training. In June she told the board the four-day week was needed to help resolve a projected budget deficit.
Luna, who has served on the board for nearly a decade, is not seeking re-election and Alderete and Lovato Pacheco’s terms don’t expire for another two years.
Salazar said the process used in moving to the four-day week was rushed.
“I do feel that it does have some positives in the rural areas …,” he said. “I feel it also puts an economic burden on families … I have not had very many people feel that it has been effective for their child … It was sold to us, I feel, as a bill of goods.”
Medrano said he believes the four-day school week needs to be revisited.
“I think it has been a financial burden on some of the parents,” he said.
Ortiz said that as a parent he has seen his children up until midnight trying to finish homework because the school week has been condensed to four days. He said the move has been exhausting for students and parents.
“There are other places where they have initiated the four-day school weeks …,” he said. “It would be interesting to hear parents point of view.”
Mamaux said she doesn’t think the four-day school week in and of itself was a bad thing.
“But it was very poorly implemented,” she said. “You don’t decide on something in June to be implemented in August and expect the whole community to be able to conform … It needs to be revisited.”
Perea said the district moved to a four-day week to save jobs.
“I am in it for saving jobs and to save money for the district and not lay off 24 staff or teachers … It is only an hour longer … That extra hour should be used to do homework so they could catch up. So, when they do get home they can eat and do whatever they want and not worry about homework. Schools are not a daycare.”
One audience member asked for a yes or no response on whether candidates support consolidating the East and West school districts.
“It is an issue that needs to be looked at,” Medrano said. “Look at Albuquerque. It is one big district with different schools that way they can share the common goal among the school system. I think that issue needs to be looked into if we can save money by doing so.”
Ortiz said, “It is more than likely a great idea … by talking with the other board members this might be a way to double our budget.”
Mamaux said the question needs to be reframed.
“I think we need to reframe it and not call it consolidation because that scares people,” she said. “They think it means we are going to take away schools and jobs. Instead we should call it unification, and yes, I am fully in favor of it.”
Perea said, “No, I am not and everybody knows I’m not. We got our two school districts.
I’ve asked for numerous studies to see how it could save us money … All we are going to do is cut one superintendent, but then we have to add an associate superintendent to take care of both sides, No, zero.”
Salazar said “Yes.”
Candidates were also asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the district, the role individual board members should have, the unique qualities the candidate would bring to the board, the best way to improve academic achievement, how to improve awareness and communication with teachers and the community and justification of inequalities in the pay system currently in place within the district.
Mamaux, Ortiz and Salazar stayed after the conclusion of the forum to talk to audience members one-on-one.
School board elections across the state are this Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Las Vegas City Schools polling sites are at: Mike Marr Gymnasium, Watrous Fire House and Mike “Mateo” Sena Elementary School in Sapello.