Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back to School

I'm submitting columns now and then to the local semi-weekly newspaper. Here's the latest:

Our youngest daughter is 32 years old, so it’s been a while since we worried much about the quality of our local public schools. But we just adopted our granddaughter and moved to Ruidoso to raise her, so now we’re worrying a lot.

We’ve been keeping up with the ongoing coverage of the dysfunctional school board and its superintendent-in-exile, sent home on paid leave for reasons that vary depending on who you ask.

We’ve also come into random social contact with a large number of people who say they have insider information and strong feelings about how the school district leadership may have gotten itself into its present fix. 

Some blame the board, especially recall targets Devin Marshall and Curt Temple. Others blame Superintendent Bea Harris.

I’m not yet sure where the lion’s share of the fault lies. But regardless, there are two things that are painfully obvious to anybody trying in spite of everything to feel good about sending their children to back to classes in Ruidoso schools this week.

The first is that the real reasons behind the controversy haven’t been publicly disclosed. Ruidoso taxpayers, including yours truly, don’t have more than a few clues that would help us understand what the fuss is actually about.

When Ms. Marshall and Mr. Temple first announced they were suspending Ms. Harris, they gave no grounds at all. They said only that her performance was under investigation. Newspaper readers like me were left to wonder what sort of terrible misconduct might have prompted such a drastic decision. It sounded as if it might lead to lawsuits or even criminal charges.

When the two board members finally made public statements to defend themselves against the widespread outrage from Ms. Harris’s supporters, the mystery only deepened. 

There were vague claims about violations of board policy, questionable personnel decisions, errors in handling of certain business matters. But there weren’t many facts, and what facts there were seemed to have been been spun to Ms. Harris’s disadvantage. 

Most puzzling of all, it appeared the board wasn’t investigating anything, that it had already concluded that Ms. Harris had done things that warranted removal. If that was the case, why was she still getting paid? She was their employee but no longer had their confidence. When would they just fire her? 

For her part, Ms. Harris hasn’t said a word. Silence may be the smart play for her personally. But it has helped keep the public in the dark about a corrosive dispute that has divided the community and left its school administration in serious disarray just when teachers need decisions and support as they prepare for the new school year.

The second and far more important obvious truth, one of the few things that all parties and their supporters agree on, is that the state of public education in Ruidoso is deplorable, and in the present impasse little is being done to fix it.

In the latest state reports, Ruidoso schools are among the lowest ranked in New Mexico, and of course New Mexico is near the bottom of the national heap. You can quibble over how fair or accurate such ranking systems are, but it would take a margin of error the size of Sierra Blanca for any reasonable person to believe Ruidoso schools might really not be that bad.

Reading between the lines, it’s starting to look as if this situation really boils down to a personal grudge between Ms. Harris and one or more board members, which none of them can talk about in public because Ms. Harris has a contract with the school district.

A board majority appears to want to fire Ms. Harris but may be afraid to because they can’t satisfy the contract requirements for termination. Ms. Harris can’t defend herself either because she still wants to try to save her job, Lord knows why, or at least to preserve her severance rights under her contract.

All of this is more than a little heartbreaking for us. We love Ruidoso, but we love our granddaughter more. Fortunately she’s just two years old, so we have a couple of years to decide whether we need to spend our school years somewhere else. 

I hope that’s enough time for real leaders to emerge at RMSD.


  1. If they are not paying her off, then the silence is even more bewildering. Dave, you need to get back into your old Excuse-Nuisance persona and check into this.

  2. Earlier this summer the University of Virginia Board of Visitors fired the school's president in much the same reasons given other than that she was not the right person to lead the school into the future. The outcry was so vociferous and widespread that the Board rescinded her dismissal. Seems the Board chairwoman had a personal grudge against the president, then claimed she had the Board's backing for the firing. Apparently, she had no such backing and when the Governor of the Commonwealth demanded a resolution (and gave a deadline), the Board met again and reinstated President Sullivan. Strange doings all around. Sounds a bit like the Riudoso hubbub.

  3. Great article, dad. I mentioned this before when I was visiting but it's worth repeating. When I was teaching preschool I noticed the children who excelled had parents that were committed to reading and studying at home with their kids on weekends and week nights.