Marfa ISD board discusses school safety and how to spend federal COVID funds 

MARFA –– At last Friday’s meeting, the Marfa School Board discussed how to further secure the campus, and then Superintendent Oscar Aguero gave an update on how the district plans on spending federal funds it is to receive from the American Rescue Plan over the next three years. Aguero also revealed at the end of the meeting that Mark Cash had resigned from the board, announcing his decision in an email to board members earlier that day.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board considered a few security measures that could be put in place in and around campus. Aguero said he is looking into possibly rekeying the locks around the campus. “Just to get into the buildings, I’m going through three different keys,” he said, adding that each classroom calls for a separate key.

High School Principal Allison Scott said that over at Fort Davis ISD, the administration handed over a master key to law enforcement so that officers weren’t fumbling to get inside locked doors during an emergency.

The administration will also conduct a campus lockdown drill on August 5, that will be coordinated by Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, who has experience running these drills. Aguero said that he invited all the law enforcement agencies in the area to participate in the lockdown, including Customs and Border Protection.

Principal Scott said that the drill –– which will only be attended by district staff and not students –– will most likely simulate an active shooter situation. As The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported, the Texas Legislature passed new laws that regulate the way active shooter drills can be carried out.

Following the drill, the staff will be debriefed on areas of improvement. “It also gives law enforcement an opportunity to see the layout of the school,” Scott said.

At the board meeting, Aguero announced that he went ahead and created a group chat linking district administrators with the heads of city and county departments, including County Judge Cinderela Guevara, Police Chief Steve Marquez and Fire Chief Gary Mitschke. In case of an emergency, Scott said, “The chief can send us a text message and give us a heads up about what’s going on.”

The board then discussed employee salaries for next year, and it was decided to keep the pay scales for teachers the same as last year. “The teachers already get a raise through the pay scale,” Aguero said.

“We can’t compete with these other school districts,” Aguero said, referencing surrounding districts like Odessa and Midland where the starting pay for a teacher is around $57,000. At Marfa ISD, the starting salary is $36,500.

Aguero did want to give a $500 raise to all support staff, which includes instructional aides, custodians, maintenance employees, administrative assistants and just about everyone besides teachers. “I want to tell our staff, ‘Hey, we appreciate you,’” Aguero said.

Aguero also wanted to give a $1,000 raise to the principals. The board didn’t need much in the way of convincing and quickly approved those motions.

“It’s a nice thing for sure,” Principal Scott said. “I know the school is strapped for cash.”

Toward the end of the meeting, 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.

According to the cost breakdown sheet provided to the board, the district put $263,505 toward learning loss in the form of tutors, technology and extended summer school offerings. $480,000 will be put toward the three years worth of salaries for a nurse and counselor.

$85,000 will go to increased cafeteria costs incurred from properly packaging food to prevent the spread of COVID. Another $90,000 will go to general cleaning supplies related to COVID.  And then another $150,000 will be spent on new HVAC systems at the cafe and elementary school.

Aguero said that he was asked to keep the proposal broad and that the board can amend these items in the future. The deadline to submit the proposal is July 27.