House Bill 130 increased the minimum hours required in New Mexico schools. If Socorro’s schools increase the length of the school day to add the additional hours, it will mean an extra 28 minutes for elementary students and an extra seven minutes at the secondary level, Assistant Superintendent Denise Cannon told the Socorro School Board during their regular meeting Monday.
District teachers are heavily in favor of retaining the district’s four-day school week, she said, even if it means starting the school year earlier or ending it later.
Several school board members voiced concerns that a longer school day might be difficult on small children.
“We have a lot of our elementary school teachers also assign homework to help engage parents and to get the students thinking about things outside of class, and how do you assign any homework after the kids now have 30 more minutes in class? I know for my own second, third grader that that’s not feasible,” said Board member Michael Hargather.
Board President Dave Hicks suggested the elementary schools use the additional time to help students complete homework, so they do not have additional schoolwork after the longer school day.
Board member Tara Jaramillo asked that the calendar committee consider balancing the increase in required hours between both school day length and the number of school days in the year, so that neither is increased as dramatically.
All three of the district’s elementary principals from Midway, San Antonio and Parkview, told the school board that they are in favor of using the additional time for more instructional time.
In other business, the Socorro School District is considering a new discipline policy that would address students assaulting teachers and staff members. The first reading of the new policy was Monday night.
There are already policies to address students assaulting each other or district employees assaulting students. The new policy is being added because the district has experienced an increase in discipline issues, according to Superintendent Ron Hendrix and Socorro High School Principal Christine Peguro.
“Some of these kids are being sent to school, but they’re not staying in the classes,” Peguro told the Board. “They’re not making it to those classes, and so that has been a huge concern for us too, because those kids are doing things that they shouldn’t be doing.”
According to Peguro, the high school has been dealing with more aggression and some fights, and she is also worried about drug use. The bathrooms at the high school have been the locus of those issues, so school staff have been assigned to sit outside of bathrooms and sign students in.
According to the policy, its purpose is to “recognize that violence has increased,” and to identify what measures the district will take to maintain an environment free from “violent and disruptive behavior.”
The district has created a school resource officer position, but it has been difficult to find someone who wants to take on the job.
Board members also asked if the district could ensure that coaches are encouraging good attendance by not allowing students who skip class to attend practice. Athletic Director Jarod Storey said that was possible, and he suggested that convincing more teachers to take on coaching positions could also help improve discipline. The district has 20 contract coaches.
In a separate matter, the Board got a final overview of the pricing for General Obligation School Building Bonds, Series 2023. The bonds will have a 15-year repayment plan, with a 2.41 percent interest rate. The $2.65 million in bond funds will be used to build a new middle school building.
In other business:
-The Board approved a $2,500 retention stipend for Hendrix. The other district employees have already been approved for the stipend, which is coming from American Rescue Plan funds.
-The Board approved disposition of property at Torrez Elementary School. The school building is slated for demolition. In the years it has been vacant, the building has become a graveyard of unused items, housing things like an old Pepsi vending machine and damaged furniture that need to be disposed of.
-The Board set a budget working meeting to discuss priorities for next year’s budget on Monday, April 17 at 5 p.m. The budget for the next school year will be impacted by increasing natural gas prices, Finance Director Rhiannon Crespin told the Board. The high school’s monthly natural gas bill went from $8,000 to $15,000.