Home News Elections RISD school board candidates speak to GOP women

RISD school board candidates speak to GOP women

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Milburn Dolen speaks to an audience at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women at the Roswell Convention Center. Dolen, who currently sits on the Roswell Independent School District Board of Education, faces off with John Cheney in the election to represent District 3 on the Board. Candidates in the other two school board races, incumbent Mona Kirk and challenger Ryan French in District 1 and James Edwards in District 5, also addressed the crowd. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Candidates vying for seats on the Roswell Independent School District Board of Education were the featured speakers at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women, with incumbents touting their experience while challengers accused the board of not doing enough to push back against state mandates related to COVID-19.

The meeting came as early voting is scheduled to end Oct. 30 in school board elections scheduled for Nov. 2. At the meeting, District 1 candidates board member Mona Kirk and her opponent Ryan French; incumbent Milburn Dolen and challenger John Cheney in District 3; and James Edwards of District 5 were each allotted six minutes to speak to the audience.

Guy Malone, who hopes to oust Edwards, was in the audience, but not afforded time to speak. Margaret Kennard, president of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women, said the group’s longstanding bylaws only allow registered Republicans to speak at their meetings. Malone, she said, was registered as a Decline to State.

Ryan French

French, a father of four whose wife is a teacher at Nancy Lopez Elementary School, said he felt compelled to run because he felt the board has not done more to challenge rules being imposed on the district by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

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“We’ve got mandates that have come down and we’ve been so willing to just except them, be a bunch of yes ma’ams and yes sirs, without standing up in my opinion,” he said. “And in my opinion that needs to stop,” he said.

He criticized rules handed down by the New Mexico Public Education Department requiring that all students, staff and visitors to schools wear a mask while inside a school building regardless of vaccination status.

French believes the mandate infringes on a parent’s right to make decisions about how their children go to school.

“And I am very fired up about that,” he stated. French noted he also wants there to be more transparency about what is in school curriculum.

He faulted the school board for going two and a half years before recently approving a new language arts curriculum.

John Cheney

John Cheney speaks to an audience at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women at the Roswell Convention Center. Cheney faces off with Milburn Dolen, who currently sits on the Roswell Independent School District Board of Education, in the election to represent District 3 on the Board. (Alex Ross Photo)

Like French, Cheney said he feels the state needs to be playing less of a role in imposing policies on school districts.

“I think we need to give more control to the people, the parents, the people who are in this area. That we be allowed to make decisions for our kids,” he said.

In particular, Cheney faulted the School Board for not signing onto a lawsuit by other school districts, in which they accuse the state of overstepping its bounds by implementing the mask mandate and in suspending members of the Floyd School Board when their members voted to make masking optional.

Cheney, the husband of a teacher at Gateway Christian School and a parent, also criticized the suspension of in-person learning that took place last year when the pandemic began, arguing that it caused students to fall behind academically.

“Teachers are complaining that their kids that they are getting from the grades previous are not up to where they are supposed to be yet,” he said. “And its not acceptable that we ever go back to that.”

Milburn Dolen

Veteran board members defended the decisions made and votes cast during their tenure.

In a rebuttal to Cheney and French, Dolen noted that under the state constitution, the New Mexico Public Education Department has most of the power in setting the course for education, not the individual boards.

As a result, the authority of school boards is limited to budgetary matters, hiring and firing a superintendent, selling bonds and policy.

“That’s about it,” Dolen said.

He also defended the board for not joining other counties in suing the Public Education Department. Dolen recalled that in 2004 RISD joined a lawsuit against the state related to education funding, a case that is still pending with districts still forced to fund the effort more than a decade later.

“My opinion is we have something better to do with $50,000 than get onboard a lawsuit,” he said.

Dolen also explained the long period of district schools going without a language arts curriculum, saying it is the state that mandates when a curriculum is updated and provides much of the funding to do so.

“Unless someone wants to come up with a million and a half bucks, we can’t change that curriculum,” he said.

Going forward, Dolen said he wants to remain focused on making sure the needs of the students and teachers are met and that the district operates on a sound budget.

Mona Kirk

A retired educator who has been on the board for six years, Kirk said voters should view her tenure as an asset, not a negative.

She notes that board elections are held every two years, at times making it difficult to get things done as new members come on and leave the board.

“If you want to see a stable district have a stable board. And that is why it is so important to elect veteran board members,” she said.

In her next term, Kirk said she thinks the district should move to establish an educational foundation for Roswell.

“That could help our teachers and our students. That would bring extra money to our district that would benefit every student and every teacher,” she said.

James Edwards

Edwards said he stands by his record on the board, but is willing to say when he has made errors too.

“Sometimes I’ve made my mistakes, but I’ve owned my mistakes,” he said.

When it comes to what fuels his service, Edwards says it is about the needs of the children.

“Kids are going to be first,” he said. Bullying and school construction is what Edwards said motivated him to initially run for the board. Since he was first elected, Edwards says that real progress has been made on school construction.

The important thing, Edwards said, is that board members and the public need to have good lines of communication with each other in order to better the district.

“That’s how we get to a happy medium, and we learn to understand each other’s differences,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with coverage of this and other elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.

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