Marfa ISD School Board inches closer to approving construction of a brand new athletic track

MARFA — The Marfa ISD School Board met this past Monday for their last meeting of 2021. On long wooden tables, next to copies of bound audit summaries, sat holiday goodies and symbols of the meeting’s primary focus — two swatches of rubber track material.  

Board members present were Superintendent Oscar Aguero, President Katie Price Fowlkes, Vice President Christa Marquez, Secretary Teresa Nuñez and Ernie Villareal. Absent were Yolanda Jurado, Rene Gonzales and Shawn Brugette. They passed around the two sample materials for a potential new track amongst themselves and to curious meeting attendees. Two representatives from Hellas, the company who submitted a preliminary estimate to redo the failing school track, were present via Zoom to discuss the undertaking. 

Their preliminary estimate was around $800,000, which is subject to change depending upon when the estimate is actually approved and pending results from a geotechnical and soil test. The board will likely have the test results in time for their next meeting on January 17, 2022, and held off on making a final decision about the track until that date when Aguero hopes to have all board members present, a detailed breakdown of the lump sum estimate, and soil test results in order to make the final decision. 

Many factors are to be considered in regards to replacing the school’s existing track, including which type of track to choose — a cheaper option or a more expensive option with increased longevity — maintenance schedules and costs, warranties, four versus six lane designs, and more. But the dire state of the current track, concerns over potential student injuries and the rising cost of the project (they have received lower estimates in years prior) are all factors driving the board to act swiftly.

Athletic Director Linda Ojeda expressed grave concern about the track’s safety for the school’s athletes and stated they are having students run on the grass because the track is unusable. 

“We need to do something,” said Ojeda. “I’m talking specifically about injury. We had a torn ACL last year, continued shin splints, twisted ankles, a bunch of younger kids because they don’t see what they’re running on — sometimes to the point where we just have them running on the grass now because it is a hazard, big time.” 

“I’m really concerned about the status of the track and the holes,” said Molly Barker, a Marfa resident who lives across from the track and the founder of the national program Girls On The Run. “I am actually very concerned that there is a liability issue there.”

Barker said she would ideally like to use the track when the Girls On The Run program starts up in February at the school, and offered to help raise funds for the track in order to make sure it is safe and accessible for all students, including those with disabilities. 

Fowlkes echoed concerns about ADA compliance and said she would like to push for some community funding for the project. Hellas representatives said they will use their own specialized crews to install the track but there may be opportunities for local vendors to help with other aspects of construction like asphalt supply or quarries for flex space. 

Kacey Gast of Bolinger, Segars, Gilbert & Moss LLP., a certified public accounting firm out of Lubbock, was present to go over the district’s latest financial report. Gast said they issued a clean or unmodified audit opinion, which is the highest you can receive, for the fiscal year which ended on August 31, 2021. 

The group went over the general fund, local revenues, property value increases, a decrease of some state funding due to a lower ADA-compliance rating, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund updates, increased Weighted Average per Daily Attendance, or WADA payments, and more. Gast reported a jump in property values from 394 to 438 million in the last year, which caused funding from the state to go down.

The district recently received $46,000 from the Marfa Education Foundation for a staff retention incentive program. Other updates included new furniture for the junior high school and the potential to turn interior door locks wireless and upgrade auditorium seating. The meeting was adjourned with Marquez requesting a facilities update for the elementary school and cafeteria HVAC units and Nuñez putting forth the issue of insufficient meal stipends for students and teachers while traveling, both items the board will look into.

Members of the Marfa ISD SHAC, or Student Health Advisory Committee, met for the first time this year this past Thursday to discuss overall student health and ensure they are continuing to meet federal guidelines. The committee is made up of district employees, students, parents and community members, although parents and community members were in short supply. The committee welcomes more stakeholders to join the group for their remaining three meetings this school year, tentatively scheduled for February, March and June. In addition to the regular meetings, the SHAC also reports to the school board once a year. 

The committee discussed upcoming health programs at the school, including a spring sex ed seminar for seventh through 12th graders which was also held last year. Parents wishing for their students to opt out of the program may do so, although participation was almost at 100% last year, said Principal Allison Scott. The new national program Girls of The Run will also begin sometime in February at the school. The program is part self-esteem building, part training for a 5k for girls in third through sixth grade. There is still time to sign up for interested parties. To do so, contact Elementary Principal Amy White. 

Student representatives at the meeting from Marfa High School vocalized a desire for a yoga class at school, to which the committee was receptive. Scott suggested the class take place during home room once a week, and the primary action item going forward is for the committee members to locate a local yoga teacher willing to donate their time for the class. Student reps also expressed interest in having more input on the school menus. Cafeteria Manager Cynthia Hernandez was on board with the idea. Superintendent Oscar Aguero suggested SHAC student members collaborate with the student council to garner student feedback on proposed menus going forward. 

The committee was given handouts of a wellness policy assessment tool which the school is required to complete and submit to the state. Once completed the results will be made available to the public. Nurse Beverly Dutchover gave a brief overview of the status of COVID on campus. She vaccinated 38 children ages 5 to 11 that day and said there will be another vaccine clinic on January 14, 2021. She said she is performing COVID testing daily, as requested by staff and students. As of the time of the SHAC meeting, there was one active case with 2 individuals quarantining. MISD has had a total of 5 cases this school year and saw an uptick post-Halloween.