Union fate looks better

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By Don Pace

The West Las Vegas school board may be changing its mind about closing Union Elementary School.

It now looks like the school will continue.

Last month, the board voted unanimously to move Union kids to what would be an expanded and renovated Tony Serna Elementary.

The same vote would have moved the Family Partnership School to the Union building.

Union is Las Vegas’ best-performing elementary school for reading and math proficiency.

Superintendent Ruben Cordova had earlier recommended Union remain as is and Family Partnership move into empty space at the buildings between the middle and high school.

During the district’s master plan update, Cordova, who took the district’s reins in July, said one of the tasks that he inherited was that plan.

“It has been a project that has been in the district for a number of years, and I’m learning some things about it. It’s a very sensitive issue, it involves making decisions about facilities in our district,” Cordova said.

Cordova said he had looked back at documents going back to 2002 that were created by unelected officials imposing their will on what schools a district should close.

“Reviewing the documents that I inherited, there’s been an issue about closing down Union Elementary and moving students from the Family Partnership School into that building. It seems like this concept has been pushed upon this district for a number of years, and I haven’t been able to find any support for that notion at the local level,” Cordova said.

Cordova said the idea of the move has been encouraged by the state and documented over the years in a letter he revealed to the board.
Cordova said the decision-makers have been appointed officials.

“I don’t think that is acceptable for appointed officials to tell elected local school boards how to conduct business,” he said.

“So I am recommending to the board that we put that process on hold, and meet with higher-ups at PSFA (state Public School Facilities Authority) to see if we can redirect what they want us to do versus what we want to do in our school district,” Cordova said.

“This has been in deliberation for at least six years. I’ve only been here four months, and I’m not convinced that we are going to change the thinking of PSFA in the next six days, but I’m hoping that we can. I think we need to stand up and say, we appreciate all you’re doing for us, but don’t push us into doing things that we don’t think should be done,” the superintendent said.

Board member Caroline Lopez agreed.

“I have not heard one person say they want to close Union,” Lopez said.                         

Member Gold said he, too, agreed, but he wondered how the district would fare if it loses $2.8 million in funding as a result.

“We can deny the funding, and reapply, and hope to God that we get money to fix Union, and get money to fix Tony Serna. I’m not in disagreement to changing the plan; I’m just wondering who changed the plan back then,” Gold said.

Cordova read a letter awarding the district the $2.8 million for Tony Serna with the condition that Union be closed.

Gold said if the district now denied the millions of dollars, it would have to reapply detailing the district’s new plan.

Board Chairwoman Christine Ludi said the state did an analysis on the facilities and dictated what the plan would be.

Member Caroline Lopez said this needs to stop being a blame game.
“That’s not what we’re here for. I keep hearing this is a living document that can change, so maybe then all these ideas seemed like good ideas, but we have changed, the community has changed, Union itself has changed. So the living document must change, and should be treated as such,” Lopez said.

Gold said the master plan may be a living document, but the contract with the state was literal.    

“What we’re saying here is the possibility of losing $2.8 million, wow, that’s tough,” Gold said.   

Lopez disagreed.

“When you’re talking about kids lives, whether or not they like school and will attend school is more important than $2 million.”

Cordova said the change in thinking didn’t necessarily mean giving up the allocated money. 

Member Kenny Lujan said he agreed $2 million would be tough to give up.

“But the money has never been sent to us; we’ve never really had it,” Lujan said.

Construction manager Jerry Maestas said he agreed Union should remain open. 

“But I think you’re going to have a fight with PSFA,” Maestas said.
Member David Romero said state officials have said reapplying for such funds would be a long shot.

Ludi noted that Union’s parent-teacher association wants to save the school.

Former parent-teacher association President Rick Roybal said he, current president Betsy Sanchez and others committed to keeping Union an elementary would fight for the cause.