Skandera visits - West to get $200K to finish year

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By Mercy Lopez

Wednesday was a good day for West Las Vegas Schools and for several district employees.

Just a few days prior, West Las Vegas Superintendent Gene Parson said he tried to make his point to the state Public Education Department on the district’s need for emergency supplemental funding for the rest of this fiscal year.

During a meeting Wednesday afternoon, he presented his case one more time to state Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera and finally got the response he was looking for: She vowed to provide the district with its requested $200,000 in emergency supplemental funding.

Skandera spent all day Wednesday meeting with district officials at both Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas Schools.

On Wednesday evening, she met with roughly 60 educators, community members and students at a public forum to discuss the state’s education initiatives.

“I think we can meet you on your request,” Skandera told Parson and his team of administrators in attendance, and board members David Romero and Gary Gold.

She then asked PED Deputy Secretary Paul Aguilar to work with the West district to continue its services, as it nears the end of the fiscal year.

Parson said earlier on Wednesday that he had notified West Las Vegas High School principal John Bustos of the district’s need to decrease spending dramatically. Parson asked Bustos to notify two long-term substitute teachers that Wednesday would be their last day at the district.

But with Skandera’s announcement to Parson, the long-term substitute teachers will remain on the job until the end of the school year.

Parson said several issues have plagued the district this year, including a former director entering several-year contracts for the district’s communications systems. The contracts have cost the district a substantial amount of money, including about $30,000 a month bills, but recently the district has been able to cut the cost roughly $96,000 for their district’s yearly Century Link bill. This year alone, the district has paid $660,000 in communications.

Parson added that for several years the district has dramatically decreased its requests for emergency supplemental funding. He said the district had a huge funding loss several years ago when PED switched the classification of district’s Family Partnership School from small school standing.

During Wednesday evening’s forum, organized by the New Mexico Parent Teacher Association held at Memorial Middle School, Skandera discussed the state’s recently implemented teacher and administration evaluation system, and school grades. The forum was attended by about  60, including West Las Vegas board members Gold, Henry Abeyta, Christine Ludi and Marvin Martinez, city schools board members Gloria Lovato Pacheco and Luis Ortiz, numerous teachers from Las Vegas City Schools, students and community members.

Skandera explained that the teacher evaluation system is based on a student’s growth and not on proficiency. She added that demographics are also taken into account during the teacher evaluation.

“If this measure was based on proficiency, that wouldn’t give you a fair opportunity to demonstrate what a great teacher you are,” Skandera told a Las Vegas City Schools teacher who  questioned why test scores reflect on a teacher’s evaluation. “It is not based on proficiency it is literally based on… scales scores... what we are measuring is not proficiency; we are measuring how much students have improved from one year to the next.”

Skandera added that the PED is working on ways to reward highly effective teachers monetarily but their requests have been turned down by the state legislature.

“For me, teaching is a calling,” Skandera said. “We want to know that teachers know their content and we also want to know they know how to engage our students … not everyone has that gift.”

She also explained the evaluation system used for school administrators such as principals and vice principals.

She said 44 percent of the state’s budget goes to kindergarten to 12th grade education.

“There is a pretty hefty investment and a really strong commitment to invest in education,” Skandera said. “I think that is demonstrated by numbers and you will continue to see that ... when we invest it is our job and our responsibility whether you are a parent, a teacher, a secretary for education, whatever it may be to steward those dollars wisely; … with great investment comes expectation. Our goal is to invest with an expectation that our kids continue to learn and grow, our teachers are supported, and we know how to support the betterment of our schools.”