Rio Rancho Public Schools

Rio Rancho school security guards will likely carry guns this coming school year.

The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education spent 10 minutes hearing about the proposal to arm security guards for the 2018-19 school year, and then 30 minutes discussing the contract and benefits of a lobbyist at its meeting last Monday evening.

Board president Ramon Montaño predicted, “This (meeting) room will be packed” when the board votes on the arming of a dozen security guards, whom Chief Operating Officer Mike Baker, a former Rio Rancho Police chief, said will be rotated and on the campus of every school.

Baker said a draft of protocols has been completed, along with a meeting with the insurance carrier — making sure the district would still be insured with “open carry” and the premiums wouldn’t go up.

Baker said the district’s “first round” with arming security guards would entail 12 retired police officers, and it’s not as easy as placing a gun in a holster and turning the guards loose. Legal issues are being worked out, weapons proficiency — with qualifying scores and tests passed — plus a physical fitness assessment and mental evaluations will be completed.

It’s “essentially everything a police officer has to go through,” Baker added.

Also to be completed is a memorandum of understating between Rio Rancho Police Department and the district, with the essential wording of that document being done by the city’s and school district’s attorneys. Baker said he didn’t think the MOU would be finalized and signed before the start of school next month.

Because the arming of security guards has yet to be approved by the school board, Montaño was concerned about “how (the district) gets this information out to our community,” noting he’s aware there’s a lot of confusion about the issue.

“The concept, but not the details, has been revealed to some parent groups,” Baker noted, with no dissension.

“This is an update,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland said after the discussion. “That’s all it is; every parent will receive communication.”

And when the item comes before the board later this summer, that’s when Montaño expects the meeting room to be packed.

Board members Wynne Coleman and Catherine Cullen had qualms about the district’s lobbyist in Santa Fe, Cris Balzano, namely that they didn’t have enough information on what he provided the district in relation to his annual fee of $40,000.

Blazano’s latest contract with RRPS expired June 30, although he still seemed willing to operate in Santa Fe in the best interests of the district sans a new contract.

Cleveland told the board about one costly result of not having a lobbyist, recalling many years ago when a late-night decision in Santa Fe left districts being funded on their previous year’s enrollment, which not only hurt rapidly growing districts, which RRPS was at the time, but also kept the district from receiving $1 million more in funding, if it had been done on current enrollment.

“Rio Rancho was a growing district,” Cleveland said, “(with) no voice there. It’s important to have someone looking out for the interests of our district.”

Balzano explained how effective his “team” was when it came to evaluating proposed policies, putting up roadblocks to legislation that would adversely affect school districts, etc. He said he was in discussions with former RRPS lobbyist Theresa Saiz about her addition to his “team” in that role.

“I believe I don’t have enough (information) right now,” Coleman said, and Cullen added, “The contract hasn’t come up before the board.”

Thus, a vote by the board to renew Balzano’s contract was postponed, possibly to the July 23 meeting.

“We are working on a lot of stuff this summer,” cautioned Beth Pendergrass, the district’s community strategy engagement officer.

Seemingly disappointed in the turn of events, Montaño noted, “We have to have a better process on how this comes before the board.”

In other matters Monday, the board:

• Voted unanimously to approve the revised dress code (policy 1016); and

• Approved modifications to the facilities use agreement, with Montaño concerned about the possible overuse of the grass fields. Cleveland said the district may soon want to think about replacing grass with artificial turf, which lasts longer and doesn’t require constant maintenance — and precious water.

Although the school board’s next regular meeting is set for July 23, it has a 3 p.m. workshop at City Hall on Tuesday to meet with the Rio Rancho Governing Body to ensure there is communication between the two entities. One business item is on the agenda: discussion related to the development of Unit 10.

According to the city’s “Specific Area Plan” adopted in August 2016, RRPS has plans for a new elementary, as well as a possible new middle school and/or a new high school, in that unit, basically bounded on the north by Southern Boulevard, on the east by Unser Boulevard, on the west by Rainbow Boulevard and on the south by Black Arroyo Boulevard, the city of Albuquerque’s northern boundary.