Marfa School Board reviews campus security, bond results, potential 4-day school week 

MARFA — The Marfa Independent School Board of Trustees met for a regular meeting on Monday night in which they discussed the unfavorable results of the November 8 bond election, school security grants and what it would look like for the district to switch from a five-to a four-day instructional week. 

All board members and Superintendent Oscar Aguero were present. Aguero kicked off the meeting with his superintendent’s report, stating that the Shorthorn Gym roof repairs and new carpet installation for the auditorium were recently completed. Aguero said the district would soon be applying for two new safety grants through the Texas Education Agency (TEA), one for $200,000 for district safety improvements and another for $1,000 for a silent panic button which would alert law enforcement to an emergency situation. 

The funds will come from the state, which announced in late October the allocation of $400 million in funding “to assist school districts in replacing or upgrading doors, windows, fencing, communications, and other safety measures.” The district will be limited in how it can spend the funds. 

Aguero said the district would soon begin wiring for its new internal and external security cameras, which should be up and running by Christmas break. No news regarding the school resource officer (SRO) was available, but Aguero said they would begin seeking candidates with the city soon. 

Next he opened up the floor for discussion from board members about the $57 million school bond, which failed to pass in the General Election last week. Board Member Lori Flores said several people who were in favor of the bond visited her office at the city to apologize for those who did not vote to support it, and moving forward she was curious to hear from more of the naysayers. 

“Why were they against it? What can we do to inform them better?” asked Flores. 

Board President Teresa Nuñez said after seeing a number of other school bonds pass in the West Texas region — including in Rankin ISD, whose bond didn’t involve a tax increase, McCamey ISD, which passed a $71.8 million bond for new facilities and Fort Stockton ISD, which passed two bond propositions, one for $84 million and another for $16 million — it seemed like in comparison the community of Marfa simply wasn’t as invested in its kids. 

“I feel like this is more of a tourist town that focuses on tourism. I think they need to stop and realize that we are Marfa, we do have school here, we do have families that live here. I just think we’re a different culture over here,” said Nuñez. 

She said she thought the board did a good job of spreading the message of the need for the bond, but money and an increase in property values ultimately played a larger role in the public’s decision making. 

Board Member Yolanda Jurado echoed Nuñez’s sentiments that the messaging from the board was solid, but the community’s priorities as a whole currently lie elsewhere. 

“In this West Texas region, we’re the only ones that didn’t pass and we were probably the ones that needed it more than anyone else,” said Jurado. “We don’t focus on kids. We’re begging people to come to games and begging them to get involved with the kids. The focus is not on children and that’s heartbreaking.” 

Nuñez said another area that might have hurt the district in the bond election was the fact that the school district, which operated a separate school bond election adjacent to the main election at the polling location, was not open to voters on the Saturday of early voting, which the Presidio County Democratic Party petitioned to have added to the voting schedule. 

Nuñez said the district might also consider reaching out more aggressively to the local arts community and appealing to a broader audience in the future. “We need to bring the focus back to our children, back to the community,” she said. “We just need to reach out and make sure that everybody in Marfa is going to be included in building the school.” 

If the district decides to go out for the bond again, and if they opt to do so as soon as the May 2023 election, they will need to order the election by a deadline of February 17, 2023. 

The board held a public hearing relating to their recent financial integrity system rating from the TEA, a metric designed to hold public schools accountable for their financial integrity. For the 2021-22 school year the district received a 90 score, which is considered an A and a “superior rating.” Aguero explained that the year prior the district received a 100 but lost 10 points because enrollment has declined but staff levels have remained the same. 

The meeting concluded with preliminary talks regarding a four-day school week. Aguero said he was meeting with teachers one on one to learn more about their needs and in doing so discovered a common theme: many wished they had more time to plan and meet with team members. The concept he presented proposed a four-day school week for students and a five-day work week for staff and teachers. The district could have school Mondays through Thursdays on the new schedule, with Friday being a flexible day for teacher planning and more. 

“As long as we have 75,600 minutes [of instruction] it doesn’t matter how many days of school we have. The only thing we have to have is 187 workdays for teachers,” said Aguero.

If a four-day week were adopted, the district would likely need to extend school hours Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 7:50 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. to allow for a little bit of extra instructional time each day. The mix up could also mean the school year is extended to start earlier in the fall and end later in the summer, so that the end of the year is the Friday after Memorial Day.

Aguero said as it is now, the district sometimes has to combine classes on Fridays due to staffing shortages, which causes meaningful instruction to halt, and the four-day week could be a solution. Fridays could also serve as a time for students who failed the STAAR test to do mandatory tutoring hours. Aguero said the schedule might also serve as a valuable incentive when recruiting new teachers. 

Board members discussed how the schedule would affect athletics games and activities that take place on Fridays and how the change might affect cafeteria and janitorial staff. All agreed more data, like feedback from other smaller districts who have changed to the four-day week, was needed before making a decision. Nuñez expressed concern that public perception of the four-day week would negatively impact a potential bond proposal. Aguero said he was hoping the board would be able to make a decision on the potential four-day week by January and said he would seek more feedback from staff now knowing the idea was plausible.