The Española School District will have to wait a little longer to have police officers on its school sites.
The Memorandum of Understanding between the District and the Española Police Department had already been approved by the City Council prior to the Española School Board’s Oct. 16 meeting, where it was scheduled for a vote.
Before the Board meeting began, a majority of members left the meeting room and spoke amongst themselves outside the building, including Board President Ruben Archuleta, Board Member Matthew Paña and Board Secretary Gilbert Serrano. Board Vice President Yolanda Salazar also joined the conversation once she arrived to the building.
When the meeting finally commenced, Serrano moved to table the approval of the Memorandum, because he said the costs had not been adequately explained.
Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez tried to explain to Serrano that the costs for police on school grounds, which total a little over $138,000, was because of the Board’s previous request to have two student resource officers. One officer would be stationed at Española Valley High School while the other would be at Española Middle School.
“I want to see the costs on this,” Serrano responded.
The Board then voted unanimously to amend the agenda with the Memorandum now tabled, with no other member questioning why Serrano wanted to wait to approve it.
After the meeting, Serrano said he only wanted further explanation of the costs associated with the Memorandum.
“I just want to see what the contract’s all about,” he said.
The soonest the Board could approve the Memorandum is Nov. 6 — the day after School Board elections take place.
Gutierrez said the District probably could not even schedule a workshop to discuss the costs until after Election Day.
Archuleta said the upcoming election played no role in deciding to table the Memorandum.
“That has nothing to do with it,” he said. “If that was the case, we would have stalled it.”
Archuleta, Salazar and Paña are all running for reelection in their respective districts. And all three approved tabling the Memorandum.
Archuleta said the conversation between members outside the building did not pertain to the Memorandum, but Serrano did mention he had a concern about the agenda.
Gutierrez said the Board’s decision took her and other District officials by surprise.
“I do not understand that one for the life of me,” she said. “They clearly directed back in the summer that we budget for two officers.”
Archuleta said in a Oct. 17 phone interview that he does have his own concerns about the Memorandum, specifically that the student resource officers will be called to work in other parts of the city away from the schools.
The District has been looking for new school resource officers ever since former Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Barnes tased a student with special needs at the High School in May.
The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General has stated they are investigating the incident and will offer relevant trainings to District employees, according to previous Rio Grande SUN articles.
Due to the Office’s involvement, Archuleta said the District should have the Attorney General’s Office review the Memorandum before the Board approves it.
He said the District may have rushed the process to approve the Memorandum before looking at all the details.
“It’s a good thing Gilbert tabled it,” he said. “It’s a little touchy for us as a Board.”
The costs surrounding the student resource officers also raises the question as to whether the District should simply hire more security guards instead, Archuleta said.
Gutierrez said the District will continue using security guards until a Memorandum is approved.
Currently, the draft of the Memorandum states that student resource officers may only be brought into a situation when there is “an immediate threat” to anyone within the schools.