Marfa school board discusses new career programs, Hunter Gym, UIL participation for non-district students

MARFA — The Marfa ISD School board met on Monday to review new career technical education (CTE) programs for high school students, approve a lease for Hunter Gym and discuss the idea of allowing students not enrolled in the district to participate in University Interscholastic League (UIL) sporting and academic competitions. 

Board members Lori Flores, Stela Fuentez, Teresa Nuñez, Rene Gonzales, Ruben Martinez and Interim Superintendent Arturo Alferez were present. Alferez said this spring semester the district plans to offer three new CTE programs to junior and seniors in the fields of hotel management, child development and nursing. 

Those curricula were chosen, in part, because they would help train students for jobs in demand in the tri-county area, said Alferez. “We don’t have childcare here,” he said. “But if we start those kinds of programs, we can certify our students in those fields.” 

A lab and medical equipment will be needed for the CNA, or certified nursing assistant program, said Alferez, who is working with Odessa College to secure supplies and instructors. The possibility of partnering with the local hospital is also being assessed, he said. 

The board then voted to approve a lease agreement with the nonprofit organization Friends of Hunter Gym, which intends to fundraise and restore the historic adobe gym on Marfa ISD’s campus then give it back to the district. Negotiations regarding the lease have stretched on for years, but Alferez said the district’s lawyer approved of the final document, as well as the nonprofit’s liability insurance policy, and everything was finally in order. 

The lease is a five-year renewable agreement spanning the next 50 years, with the nonprofit paying $1.00 a year. Either party can terminate the lease with prior notice, and the Friends of Hunter Gym agrees to restore the structure in accordance with federal historic standards. 

Bob Schwab, who is on the board of the nonprofit, thanked the school board for their patience, and said the group would keep trustees updated on their progress moving forward. 

“It’s a unique facility. We all know that,” said Schwab. “We’re looking forward to really rolling up our sleeves and moving quickly forward with developing a detailed restoration plan, securing the funds, the contractors, architects and engineers to really proceed in earnest.” 

Gonzales and other board members congratulated the group on the finalization of the legal agreement. “We wish you all the best, and we’re here to help with whatever we can,” said Gonzales. “We appreciate what y’all are doing.” 

Next the board discussed whether or not to opt into HB 547, a state law originally passed in 2021 that was recently amended, allowing public school districts to offer UIL sporting and academic competitions to students not enrolled in the district. The program aims at including home school, charter school, or other students who live within a school district but do not attend the public school. 

Alferez shared with the board that after an initial review of the policy, he was not in favor of the idea, mostly for financial reasons. The district passed a deficit budget this year and he was worried providing transportation, meals and more to non-MISD students attending UIL events would be an unnecessary expense. 

“There’s no benefit for us as a district,” said Alferez. “We don’t collect any ADA [average daily attendance] on this.” 

School district funding is, in part, based on average daily attendance as well as enrollment, with the state providing around $6,000 per pupil. 

Fuentez, whose children attend a privately-funded “microschool” in town called Wonder School, which runs similarly to a Montessori school, said she was aware of at least eight families that are interested in participating in UIL academic competitions. Wonder School educates children ages kindergarten through fifth grade. 

Other than those students, board members were unsure how many other local home school students would potentially utilize the program. 

The question of how the district would afford to include those students as well as what the district would be liable for if they became injured was discussed. A potential reimbursement, one of the recent amendments to the original bill, per student was brought up, with Alferez stating that even if that came to fruition, it would not make up the $6,000 the district would have if they enrolled full time. 

“Why not have them here, enrolled in the school, be a part of the district?” said Alferez.

Testing may be needed for students to prove proficiency and compete in certain academic UIL competitions, said Fuentez, which she imagined Wonder School parents would be willing to pay for. She asked Alferez to look into other districts who participate in HB 547, to which he said there were no local districts who do, but he would reach out to those further away. 

The board concluded more information was needed before they made a decision and they would aim to meet with a representative from UIL soon to discuss the matter. Fuentez said beyond finances, she believes the initiative would send a welcoming message and would encourage students and parents not currently enrolled in the school to consider enrolling in MISD as their children age out of local Montessori programs. 

“These students are simply walking out to the campus, they’re walking the halls, they’re engaging with other students,” said Fuentez. ”They’re gonna feel that sense of community here that they’re going to want to be a part of.”