Letter calling for Seidenwurm’s removal draws crowd to meeting

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Gene Lavato of Clovis addressed the school board during Tuesday’s board meeting. About 150 attended the meeting, most in support of a letter calling for the removal of the superintendent.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

An overflow crowd packed the Clovis Municipal Schools board of education meeting Tuesday, apparently in support of a group’s letter calling for the immediate removal of Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.

Seidenwurm has announced she’s retiring, effective June 30.

A letter from the Concerned Citizens of Curry County calls for her immediate ousting, alleging Seidenwurm and her administration have pushed out minority leaders across the district.

Of an estimated 150 persons attending, only 100 were allowed in the board room because of fire code restrictions. The others waited in the lobby.

Concerned Citizens of Curry County is a coalition made up of the local League of United Latin American Citizens and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The group’s letter also alleges the district is cutting back on programs that assist poor and minority families more than other programs in a period of tightening budgets.

Eleven members spoke to the board, most stating they were present in support of the letter.

Rosanne Martinez said the administration consistently claims there are no minority candidates for positions.

“We need a personnel director that isn’t going to make excuses,” Martinez said. “And thinks of ways to try to hire minorities.”

Martinez called for an investigation into the district’s hiring practices.

Several speakers after Martinez expressed concern about alleged cuts to the Leadership Institute and the Lincoln-Jackson Family Center, but Seidenwurm said there are no plans to cut either.

Seidenwurm chose to address some of the concerns to the audience.

She said the administration has a meeting with leaders from LULAC, NAACP and the CCCC scheduled for Thursday to discuss some of the issues brought up in the letter.

Seidenwurm, however, said she could not legally address any personnel issues.

School officials have said they have to cut $2.3 million from their budget because of legislative cutbacks.

David Briseno, president of the CCCC and a former employee of the district, said the group was “here to protest against the evil in our district.

“We hope you act swiftly and decisively,” he told the school board.

Pablo Martinez said there are qualified African-American and Hispanic candidates who are intentionally not being chosen for leadership positions.

“This is a disservice to the community as a whole,” Martinez said. “We hope this can be resolved without litigation.”

School board President Mark Lansford said the group’s concerns should be chronicled in the minutes so there is a permanent record.

Vice President Terry Martin asked the issues be put on the next meeting’s agenda for discussion and possible action.

Briseno, who was a candidate for the superintendent’s position when Seidenwurm was hired in 2005, said after the group’s presentation Tuesday that issues boil down to hiring practices.

“There have been several positions and she (Seidenwurm) will always tell you that she can appoint whoever she can. But why is it always an Anglo who is perfect for the job?” Briseno said.

Briseno also said while Seidenwurm is claiming to keep programs such as dual-language and the Leadership Institute, she is intentionally reorganizing them in a way that they become ineffective and sooner or later cut.

In other business, the board:

• Appointed longtime Clovis Educator G.C. Ross as the interim superintendent starting June 1. Ross will be paid the same daily rate as Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm which is about $530.

• Approved a change in the 2010-2011 instructional calendar. Two days were taken from the beginning and the end of the school year. Seidenwurm said the calendar was changed because the legislature put a moratorium on the law requiring 180 instructional days for the year and the calendar already reflected the requirement.

• Discussed changing early release Wednesdays and elementary school start and end times to accommodate a law that prohibits professional development during the school day.

Seidenwurm suggested changing the school day from 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. five days a week. The new schedule would have 80 minutes of professional development tacked onto one of the days of the week.

Board members asked for a survey of parents before changing the schedule. The issue will be revisited at the May 11 board meeting.

• Discussed House Bill 227 which requires board members to create a finance and audit committee. The finance committee would consist of two board members. The audit committee would be made up of two board members, a parent and a person with finance experience. The board needs to establish who will make up both committees by May 19. The issue will be revisited at the May 11 board meeting.

• Approved three waiver requests for the New Mexico High School Competency Exam. Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Cindy Martin said one student came to Clovis at the end of their senior year and failed one section of the exam without time to retake the exam. The other two students took the test a second time but their scores won’t be in until after the deadline to request a waiver.

Approved by a vote of three to two, requests for bids and proposals for athletic supplies and equipment, asbestos abatement services, custodial supplies and training, auctioneer services and yearbooks for secondary schools. President Lansford and Member Lola Bryant voted no because one of the bids were started over due to an error after a contract had been completed and Lansford said he was worried about the district being in breach of contract.

• Approved items for auction and two budget adjustments.

• The board will review the budget at the May 11 and hold a public hearing on the budget in late May. Seidenwurm said the board will also discuss an early renewal of the bond.