Paid leave a concern for public

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Finalist Paul Rockhold pulls out

By Martin Salazar

Four finalists for the Las Vegas City Schools superintendent post made their cases last week for why they should get the job while the fifth withdrew his name from consideration on the eve of the interviews.

Board President Felix Alderete said finalist Paul Gregory Rockhold called and asked for his name to be withdrawn just before the on-site visits were to begin. Rockhold did not give a reason, according to Alderete.

Rockhold was one of four finalists who had been relieved of his superintendent duties by the school board prior to his contract expiring. He obtained his Ph.D. from Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, a school that is not accredited and that grants course credit for life experiences, the Optic reported last week.

For the remaining four finalists the grueling two-day interview process wrapped up late Friday with closed-door interviews with the board. Members of the public had plenty of time to hear from the finalists themselves.

Finalists took part in a public forum on Thursday evening and answered questions from the board during a public session Friday morning. The board is expected to hire the next superintendent on May 17.

About 80 people attended the Thursday evening forum and among the questions on many people’s minds was why the majority of the finalists were on paid leave from their most recent superintendent jobs.

Finalist Sheri Williams, the outgoing superintendent for the Carlsbad Municipal Schools, said one person asked her whether she was let go from Carlsbad because she absconded with funds or was in a lawsuit with the district. She said the answer to both questions is no.

“The board and I had a difference of opinion in terms of the way to balance the budget...” said Williams, who is also a finalist for the Belen superintendent position. “I had a totally new board. They wanted to spend down the reserves to a greater extant than I could really begin to say, yes I can do that for you. Spending down the reserves is a dangerous business because it does support your bond ratings.”

She said that when the board offered her the opportunity in March to take leave with pay, it was unexpected. She said she accepted the opportunity with graciousness.

Williams called herself a “change agent.” She said she is engaging and collaborative and has high expectations for those who work with her. Raised in Denver, Williams said, “I’m as comfortable in boots as I am in heels.”

Finalist Marc Space on Thursday evening did not address the reason he has been on paid leave from his post as superintendent of Putnam Valley Schools in New York. But during his public interview session on Friday, he told board members that while developing the budget for the current school year there were budget concerns.

He said he began looking at ways to save money and homed in on the fact that several teachers in the district who were earning more than $100,000 a year could retire, and the district offered retirement incentives, a move that saved the district a little more than $1 million.

Space said he didn’t want a single teacher to lose a job, and that required the district to shuffle some teachers around. One teacher who had taught kindergarten for many years was reassigned to teach first grade. Some teachers were moved to nearby worksites, he said.

Space said he still thinks those decisions were best for the district, but the teachers who were moved got board members to run to separate him from the district. He said that is the reason he is no longer at Putnam.

Space, who has also served as superintendent in Taos, said every place he has been he has expanded academic programs and improved the financial health of the district.

Finalist Eric Martinez did not publicly address the reason he is on paid leave from his position as superintendent of the Questa district.

He did, however, note that he did his student teaching at Robertson High School and attended Highlands University.

“I understand school reform,” Martinez said, adding that he has done it successfully. Among the items he said he would address immediately if chosen for the east job is the district’s late audits.

“I believe that to be an emergency,” he said.

Asked what he didn’t like about his current school district, he said that because it was a small town, he would have to listen to it for weeks when he didn’t hire someone for a particular job.  But he said he didn’t give into small town politics.

Finalist  Jim Reed, a former superintendent of Dora (N.M.) Consolidated Schools, said he and his wife returned to Texas because his wife’s family needed help.

“I’m an innovator, and I can always think of a way to improve a situation,” Reed said.

Asked whether he is an independent thinker, Reed responded, “I will do what my conscience tells me to do 100 percent of the time.”

But he said he would also work closely with the board on issues because ultimately it’s up to the board to set policy.

Finalists were also asked how they would evaluate employees and how they would enforce an ethical code of conduct.

Reed said the district already has a written code of conduct.

“You have to have the guts to enforce it,” he said.

As for evaluations, Reed added, supervisors need to have the moral courage to fill them out correctly. If a teacher is marginal, he said, the evaluation needs to reflect that.

The person selected will replace Richard Romero, who resigned abruptly in December. The resignation came after Romero allegedly gave a flash drive to an employee, who opened it and found files with labels considered offensive.