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West board argues, then hears input

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By Don Pace

About 40 people turned out for a special West Las Vegas school board forum called to hear concerns from parents, staff, students and concerned citizens. 

After the meeting was gaveled to order, a good portion of her meeting was taken by board members arguing about what direction the meeting should take, what kind of questions would be heard, or if there would be any kind of interaction between the board and the audience. 

From the beginning, the meeting turned into an often-disjointed and disorganized event where some people were required to speak from a podium and others were not. The board said it was there to listen to concerns and not engage the audience in a formal discussion.

The board seemed to answer some questions, while ignoring others that it deemed inappropriate.

Board member Kenny Lujan told the crowd, which consisted of district employees and a few parents, that he wanted public input to include all concerns that parents might have.

Chairwoman Christine Ludi said the meeting would not include questions concerning personnel issues. She said those matters should be addressed in writing to the superintendent.

Board Secretary Caroline Lopez disagreed.

“I don’t want to make a decision on personnel matters, but I want to know if there are some concerns out there. It’s not my place to make decisions on personnel, but I want to know what’s going on as well.”

Ludi said she didn’t want the board to be put in a position that would put the district in legal jeopardy.

“If they put their concerns in writing, then the superintendent (Jim Abreu) can bring those concerns to us,” Ludi said. 

Lopez said she didn’t see what the harm would be in knowing what the public is concerned about.

“We just have to be extremely careful with that,” Ludi said.

Lujan said he agreed, but if the board was looking to have more of these kinds of forums, it would be the difficult questions that would produce any tangible discussion and result in meaningful policy changes.

“We’re not going to get involved (in personnel issues), but why can’t they (audience) speak up if they think something is an issue. I thought that was what this was about — giving the public a chance to interact with us?” Lujan said.

Ludi remained cautious.

“I just want to make sure we are not crossing a line here.”

Lopez said as long as the board was just in a listening mode and not making any official decisions, she didn’t see any harm in opening the floor to any questions people may have.

Superintendent Jim Abreu said, “With personnel, you want to be very careful about someone stepping forward and disparaging somebody in public, something that could put us in an unwanted legal situation. You want to be very careful when someone speaks ill of others in public. If they want to say something about someone, they can put it in writing and give it to me, or I can meet with them in private.”

Lopez wondered how many people would bother coming to a forum if they were not able to give their unedited opinions.

Before the public meeting went public, Lujan said the high school and middle school principals, Gene Parson and Steve Sandoval, were present, but wanted to know where the elementary school principals were.

Abreu said he invited administrators to attend, but because it was a special meeting of the board, it was not mandatory for them to do so..

“I know, but for this meeting, we asked for them to attend. It was mandatory, because if there are questions about their schools, they should be here to respond,” Lujan said.

“Mr. Lujan, this is a special meeting. We can only request for them to be here. They are not required to be here,” Abreu said.

Lujan was unconvinced.

After 15 to 20 minutes into the special session, audience members were finally asked to present their views. There were only a few issues that came into play. Some wanted to know if there was a dress code, others asked about coaches who worried too much about winning instead of letting kids participate, and one teacher said class sizes in social studies were way too large this year.

While the banter was sometimes heated, there wasn’t a lot of actual discussion, or even simple answers to what was supposed to be an open-ended and freewheeling discussion.