Marfa ISD board president, VP and secretary to serve another term

MARFA – At Monday’s meeting, the Marfa Independent School Board was updated on the results of the STAAR exam and then passed a motion to keep Katie Price Fowlkes as president, Mark Cash as vice president and Teresa Nunez as secretary.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board entered into executive session –– which is closed to the public –– to discuss the results of the STAAR exam in order to protect the privacy of the students. According to reports shared with The Big Bend Sentinel, grades three and eight did generally well on the reading portion of the exams with around 80 percent of the students passing.

Across the board, Marfa students did not fare as well in math. None of the students who took the grade seven math exam passed––that said, some seventh grade students took the eighth grade level exam. For the grades five and six math exams, three quarters of the students that took those tests passed.

At the previous board meeting, Superintendent Oscar Aguero had given a brief overview of the preliminary results from the STAAR exams, highlighting how certain grades struggled with the math portion of the tests. He said the dip in the results could, in part, be pinned on the turn to online learning throughout the course of the pandemic. It was also the first time the students took the STAAR exam online. Yet since the board convened into a private session during this week’s meeting to discuss the more in-depth results, there was no public discussion on the matter.

After coming out of the closed session, the board then discussed a shake up in the committee’s hierarchy. As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, the board was unable to select a new president in last month’s meeting. At the time, It was motioned by Board President Katie Price Fowlkes to restructure the board to where Christa Marquez would become president, Price Fowlkes would step down to VP and Teresa Nunez would remain secretary. However, that motion ended in a draw along with a seperate motion to make Nunez the president.

In this week’s meeting, Board Member Shawn Brugette proposed to keep the board structure the same. Last week, all of the board members took part in a training module hosted by Texas Education Association to teach them how to govern cooperatively with one another. Brugette thought that it would be best to keep the board hierarchy as it is while the members go through this training.

He then made a motion to keep things the way they are. At first, the tie was split, three in favor and three opposed, with Price Fowlkes abstaining. However, after more discussion, Price Fowlkes voted in favor of the motion, tipping the motion in favor of the ayes.

Next Aguero updated the board on how the district plans on spending over $1,000,000 in federal funds, known as ESSER III, coming from the American Rescue Plan over the course of the next three years. While around 20 percent of the money must be spent on learning loss sustained during the COVID pandemic, the rest is largely up to the district’s discretion.

Aguero said that at first he was considering spending those funds on teachers’ salaries. However after a meeting with the federal programs coordinator, Aguero said the district should look into spending some of this money on expensive one-time purchases, which would relieve the district’s local funds to be spent in other ways.

Aguero said he’s cautious about hiring a new teacher with the ESSER grant money as it must be spent in three years. Once the grant ends, the district might not have the local funds to keep that teacher on staff. “The scary part about hiring a teacher is it’s hard to say goodbye in a year, two years,” he said. That’s why, in terms of learning loss, Aguero would like to hire more tutors for the district.

Since the district has been looking into upgrading the ventilation systems in the cafeteria, Aguero suggested using the ESSER funds to make it happen. “The cafeteria is on the old swamp coolers. So we were looking at upgrading the HVAC system in the cafeteria that will circulate the air better. It would improve eliminating COVID in the future,” he said.

“We could do a one-time purchase to use this money, instead of fund balance money, to do HVACS because it has to do with preventing COVID,” Aguero said.  “Another area is purchasing a new bus and we’re getting close to needing a new bus.”

The district has to submit a report on how it plans on spending the money by July 27. However, the district can amend its plan later down the road once it has a better idea on what it needs to purchase.