Roofs, renewals and fitness regimens: this week at the Marfa school board

MARFA — At the start of Monday’s almost five-hour Marfa school board meeting, board members were greeted with a photo of a man digging himself into a deep hole, along with the theme song from the 1967 Western classic “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The occasion: a presentation by Pam West, a certified public accountant and school finance consultant with the firm $choolCent$ Consulting in San Angelo, on the ramifications of House Bill 3, the sweeping school and school finance reform bill that passed during the last Texas legislative session in 2019.

West was there, she said, to “explain some of the parts of HB3 that are making everybody kind of scratch their head.” But she quickly added: “I’m telling you, we still don’t have all the answers.”

She pointed out several pages towards the end of an informational pamphlet she’d prepared for the occasion, which showed dozens of timelines for state officials to figure out various details of HB3. Some of them stretched into 2021 — the same year as the next legislative session, when lawmakers could well overhaul these rules all over again.

Among the changes, West explained, was more funding for programs like dyslexia education and military readiness, and stricter rules on increasing school funding through tax hikes, which could require costly efficiency audits.

For Marfa, there was certainly bad news. The influx of richer, newer residents in Marfa has made Marfa ISD a rich district in the eyes of state officials, who also based values on figures from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, she said. In recent years, Texas “recaptured” money from Marfa, distributing it to other school districts.

At the same time, the Presidio County Appraisal District has not matched taxes to the inflated values, apparently in fear of driving out low- and middle-income residents. That put Marfa in the unenviable position of having a “rich” school district that was not exactly rich.

West put it simply. “All these artists are moving out here and paying a billion dollars for their houses,” she said.

The House Bill 3 presentation was just a small part of a packed two-page agenda for the school board. Over the course of the meeting, board members also discussed, considered and voted on a range of topics, including:

TEST SCORES: With the STAAR standardized tests just a couple months away, John Sherrill, principal at Marfa High School, gave an overview of how students were doing compared to previous years. He compared “benchmark” assessments from this semester to last year’s scores.

In some subjects, like English I and Biology, scores were up. In others, they were way down: the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in eighth grade math, for example, had dropped from 85 percent to 16. Due to Marfa’s small student body, each student accounted for around five to seven percentage points, Sherrill said.

“Yes, this is a low number. Yes, we’re addressing it,” he said. The school would adopt “bootcamp procedures” for this and other subjects.

Superintendent Oscar Aguero said he and other administrators, who had previous experience teaching, were helping out some classes. And some kids were also getting extra test prep. But the board also recognized with amusement another reason scores might be down: One of the assessment dates fell on Snow Day. “That probably impacted it a little,” said board president Katie Price Fowlkes.

REPAIRS AND RENOVATIONS: The school board voted to continue looking into a proposal by Mike Green, an architect who wants to set up a “Friends of Hunter Gym” to renovate the facility. Board member David Walstrom, among others, has been a vocal supporter. The board also discussed necessary repairs, including the roof at the junior high school. Installed around 2003, it has leaks and is approaching the end of its 20-year warranty, said Lucas Salcido, maintenance director at Marfa schools.

Later, the board also gave Superintendent Oscar Aguero approval to make a budget amendment to find around $60,000 in funds for the repairs, which could happen this summer or as early as spring break. Salcido explained that, even though the roof wasn’t quite at the end of its warranty, the school had missed routine maintenance, which had voided it.

SCHOOL SPORTS: Linda Ojeda, athletic director at Marfa schools, outlined her vision for physical education. She was starting a more holistic physical education curriculum, she said, which could include trips to the weight room, track exercises and agility and conditioning depending on what sports, if any, a student participated in. The goal was to get athletes working a wider variety of exercises, and to get kids who didn’t play any sports exercising more.

Ojeda also announced the formation of an adult basketball league, the members of which she hoped would “basically be ambassadors for athletics” and inspire students to “live a healthier lifestyle — not just in high school, but afterwards as well.” She also gave shout-outs to some Marfa girls who earn spots on the all-district list of most valuable basketball players, including Alexis Gonzalez (newcomer of the year) and Tais Chanez (who tied for district defensive MVP with a player from Sierra Blanca). The boys’ MVP list is not public yet, as a hiccup with the Balmorhea schedule means the boys’ season isn’t quite over.

STAFF EVALUATIONS: On at least two occasions this semester, school board members have met for a routine evaluation of Superintendent Oscar Aguero. All together, those discussions have dragged on for hours. But it’s unclear what exactly the school board has been talking about, since the meetings have happened in closed session.

Monday’s meeting gave a hint. After discussing Aguero for a third time, board member Teresa Nuñez voted to “proceed with the superintendent evaluation.” The vote was unanimous. Then, Nuñez also motioned to extend Aguero’s contract until 2022. Board member Yolanda Jurardo seconded.

Board president Fowlkes noted that Aguero’s contract was already renewed through 2021. “As I mentioned, my preference would probably be to table this,” she said.

But the motion carried, 5-2. Mark Cash, Shawn Brugette and Lori Flores voted in favor. Fowlkes and David Walstrom voted against.