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School board candidates share platforms at forum

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Roswell Education Association’s school board candidate forum was attended by two incumbents and their challengers on Monday night. Standing, center, Ruben Sanchez, school board vice president and District 4 incumbent, answers a timed question. From left to right, seated, are District 2 incumbent and challenger (respectively) Dr. Kathleen Pittman and Hope Morales, and District 4 challengers Sergio Gonzalez and Hilda Sanchez. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Candidates and incumbents for the Roswell Independent School District’s District 2 and District 4 positions stood for questions from the Roswell Educators Association (REA) and unanimously agreed communication needs to be improved district-wide.

At the two-hour forum, over 15 submitted questions were presented to candidates by REA President Denise Dawson at the Elks Lodge, 1720 N. Montana Ave. on Monday night. Dawson said the REA represents teachers as well as “educational support personnel,” when candidates were asked if they supported collective bargaining.

Roughly 26 community members were in attendance.

Dr. Kathleen Pittman, District 2 incumbent; Hope Morales, District 2 challenger; Ruben Sanchez, District 4 incumbent; Sergio Gonzalez, District 4 challenger; and Hilda Sanchez, District 4 challenger, were all present. Pittman, Morales and Sanchez are all running for public office for the first time.

All the candidates voiced the importance and need for improvement of district-wide communication and involving stakeholders in the education of the youth of Roswell. Transparency and accountability for district actions and spending were emphasized by the candidates. Incumbents Pittman and Sanchez answered many of the questions with their direct experiences on the board, while the challengers expressed their views and what they would do if elected.

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Dawson moderated, timed each question and read the questions aloud about everything from the candidates’ stances on several topics. Some focused on the role of the superintendent, ethical and transparent leadership, personnel issues such as shortage of substitutes and teachers, using federal funding and use of taxpayer dollars.

Student-focused questions were about restrooms for transgender students, how the board will ensure the district is preparing students for careers and college, current discipline procedures and better-involving parents in the educational process.

Each member had one minute for their introductions and rebuttal. Most of the questions were allowed two minutes for answers, but near the end, three questions had to be answered in one minute each.

In the spring, community members addressed RISD’s moving around of administrators, some to the central office, to different positions and to other schools. Two of the questions at the forum focused on the topic where challengers stated transparency and more communication were needed on such drastic changes.

On this question, Pittman and Ruben Sanchez agreed communicating the changes could have been improved. Pittman said Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy is sending newsletters to better inform the board and is considering public forums to create more dialogue with the community. Pittman said that personnel is not part of the board’s responsibility, except for when there is an appeal.

All the candidates shared support for the district supporting students for the workforce or college. Morales and Hilda Sanchez added that real salaries should be included for college and career paths to prepare students. Gonzalez said industries should be engaging students and students should be interested in learning about possible career choices. Pittman talked about efforts such as AVID (achievement via individual determination) where students at the middle schools receive extra support in preparing for their futures.

“Do you support transgender students having a choice to use a restroom opposite their biologic sex?” Dawson read. For this question, Hilda Sanchez and Morales said the district should adhere to the state and federal regulations on the matter. Gonzalez and Pittman were in support of unisex restrooms and Sanchez agreed, adding that during his time on the board, the data showed there was only one transgender student and that something should be worked out for students.

The shortage of substitute teachers was something in which each candidate had various ideas to address. Morales brought up the legislation that limits retired teachers to return to the classroom as substitutes; Pittman and Ruben Sanchez agreed the legislation created a roadblock. Hilda Sanchez and Ruben Sanchez encouraged speaking with the state legislators to let them know it was creating a problem.

At the Oct. 8 RISD meeting, Roswell High School’s Charlie’s Angels were approved to go to Florida to compete at National Dance Alliance High School Nationals Dance Competition upcoming in March, but in 2017, the board denied their request to travel because of Policy 5300 that prohibited extracurricular activities to traveling 300 land miles from Roswell. Ruben Sanchez, the only one of the candidates serving on the board at the time, said it was a matter of compliance with “Title IX funding” and he is in support of the team and their activities. The other candidates shared support for Charlie’s Angels and any other extracurricular activities that require students to travel.

When the forum drew to a close, each candidate shared their reasons for running to serve students and the community of Roswell.

Board Secretary Pittman spent 14 years as a classroom teacher and is a retired professor. She was appointed to the board in 2017 when Nicole Austin stepped down and has served two years. Challenger Morales has been in education for 10 years as a third-grade teacher and teacher on special assignment. She has three children currently in RISD schools and works as a state director for Teach Plus New Mexico.

A local and former RISD student, Ruben Sanchez is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and currently works for the Bureau of Land Management. He has two children at RISD schools and his wife, a teacher of 15 years, teaches at East Grand Plains elementary school. Sanchez was elected to the school board in 2015 and defeated Pauline Ponce. Ruben Sanchez thanked his challengers, Gonzalez and Hilda Sanchez, for wanting to run and be involved in the process.

Gonzalez is a former U.S. Marine and has run for Roswell City Council, county commission and mayor over the last few years. He has one daughter at Goddard High School and is employed at the Dexter Consolidated Schools. At the forum, he apologized for his nerves and losing his train of thought since he only had a “few days” to prepare.

Hilda Sanchez is a retired RISD educator and principal with a bilingual endorsement. She has two adult children who attended RISD schools, but have graduated now.

Early voting began Oct. 8 at the Chaves County Clerk’s Office and Election Day is Nov. 5.

RISD’s board of education has five members who serve per diem for four-year terms with the duties of hiring and evaluating superintendents, voting on policies and the district’s annual budget among other district-related decisions specified in state statute. Districts 1, 3 and 5 will have open positions in 2021. All five districts can be viewed online at risd.k12.nm.us/schoolboard/Roswell_Schools_Board_Districts_2012_Map_letter.pdf.

Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.