Belen superintendent's contract renewed by a split vote; focus on issues

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Last month, the contract for the superintendent of Belen Consolidated Schools was extended for one more year. But Ron Marquez understands that could change at any time.

Marquez, who has served as the district's top administrator since June 2010, received a 12-month extension on his contract on a 3-2 vote. Former board of education president Sam Chavez broke the tie vote, throwing his support behind Marquez.

Board vice president Larry Lindberg and secretary Lola Quintana voted to approve the contract, while members Larry Garley and Lorraine Espinosa voted against.

The vote came after an extensive executive session evaluation of Marquez by the board that spanned two meetings.

"The reality is, I have to have a working relationship with the board. During the evaluation process, it's important to listen," Marquez said in an interview after the vote. "There are areas where they want to see change, there are areas they are happy with.

"After 32 years in education, I understand you can't always please everyone. I will just work to continue to support our schools."

The only time Marquez received unanimous support from the board to renew his contract was the January 2011 vote; after that the vote was split 4-1 and 3-2, he said.

Lindberg was one of the board members who voted no on Marquez' contract last year. When asked what swung his vote the other way this year, Lindberg said it was the superintendent "showing me he really cared about the employees. There was a personnel situation where he could have fired two teachers. Instead, he went the route of discipline and rehabilitation."

Marquez was willing to work with the teachers to make sure they kept their jobs and were able to take care of their families, Lindberg said.

"He has been working hard with our priority schools, meeting with the principals to get the grades up," Lindberg continued. "When I have brought things to his attention, he has been responsive. I visited at H.T. Jaramillo and the heater was out in one of the classrooms. I told him and he jumped on it. He is making progress with the district and taking it forward."

Espinosa supported Marquez when he first took the position, but did not last year or this year, she said in an interview after the meeting.

"We had low grades at elementary schools around the district, and last year we ended up with low grades in some of the same schools," she said. "I feel like we continue to keep administrators and give them a chance. I felt like we needed change for the teachers and staff in the district."

And Espinosa said teachers have told her they don't feel the administration listens to them, resulting in low morale.

"If we're not listening to them, our morale in our schools is going to drop; that's not a good environment to work under," she said. "We need for our teachers and staff to feel comfortable coming to our superintendent and administrators, and not feel like there is going to be retaliation."

The negative impact to the budget due to the district losing students is also something Espinosa is concerned about.

"We lost close to 100 students," she said. "What do we need to do to keep out students in Belen?"

Espinosa said she also wants to make sure the district follows state statute when it comes to hiring.

"Some of the hiring practices within the district, I haven't been too happy with," she said. "I feel like we are not following state statutes sometimes."

Espinosa added that she would like to look into whether the district was too "top heavy" with administrators.

At the meeting before the vote on the contract, Belen High School Principal Rodney Wright read a letter of support, which was signed by himself and 25 other district administrators, to the board,

The letter expressed "sincere respect and support" for Marquez, saying he has provided positive leadership for the district.

"Mr. Marquez makes difficult decisions that impact our students and staff with sincere thought, calculation and consistency," Wright read. "He models these traits and insists we follow these same expectations when communicating with our students, parents and staff."

David Carter, director of support services, addressed the board as well. He asked the board to "support the forward progress we've made under Ron Marquez."

"There's a quote by Peter Drucker — 'Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right thing,'" he said. "I've seen a lot of managers but few leaders. I have seen a lot of great things happen in the district. Attendance is up with students and staff, we have more resources available for students."

Carter added that two of his grandchildren live in the school district in the northern part of the county, but their parents make the extra effort to bring them to Belen schools.

In the coming year, Marquez said he will concentrate on continuing with and finishing construction projects around the district, such as the swimming pool complex at Belen High School, the new Family School facilities and renovations at Gil Sanchez Elementary School.

Those projects were funded by the proceeds of a voter-approved $23 million bond. Marquez said there is still another $10 million in bonds to sell, which will fund other projects.

One of the biggest charges given him by the board was two-fold — help teachers adjust to the new Common Core curriculum standards and get a better grasp on the teacher evaluation system.

"With Common Core, there's the perception that these are extra standards being imposed on the students. Before Common Core, there were student standards to teach to," Marquez said. "As a teacher, this gives specific guidelines with the option to do extra."

The superintendent said he fully understood that teachers will make the argument that with the implementation of a new system and the pressure to keep test scores up, there isn't enough time to "do extra."

Marquez agrees it's a stretch.

"There's barely enough time to do what's required in the 180 instructional days. Who decided on 180 days anyway?" he said. "I would love to have more days. Maybe we need to look at 200 days. But that's a funding issue."

As far as the new teacher evaluation system goes, Marquez said it is changing constantly.

"It is a source of a lot of stress for our teachers and I think that's where a lot of our low morale comes from. I don't disagree with them," he said.

Marquez said the near-constant testing and paperwork is putting more pressure on both teachers and administrators.

After rattling off about half a dozen mandatory tests for students, Marquez threw up his hands.

"What are we doing?"

Teacher pay is also something Marquez wants to concentrate on. While there have been small pay increases, the increases of insurance and retirement contributions have outpaced them.

"Our teachers haven't seen an increase in their take-home pay for at least five years," he said.

The terms of the superintendent's contract are the same as they have been for the last two years — Marquez did not receive a raise again this year. He will receive an annual salary of $106,050, less required or authorized deduction.

Another challenge Marquez may face before his contract expires is next year's election, with four board seats up for grabs.

"That's difficult in any district," Marquez said.

In the 2013 board elections, former board member Adrian Pino was re-elected to serve District 5 and Quintana to District 4. That put Districts 1, 2 and 3 up for election in 2015.

However, since Pino resigned in November, his seat will be on the ballot next year. Garley was chosen to fill Pino's seat until the next election. He will have to run if he wants to keep his place on the board.

And next year's election will put both a Marquez supporter and detractor on the ballot — both Lindberg and Espinoza's terms are up. The District 2 seat will also be up, but who will be sitting in it for the next 12 months is unknown until the board chooses a replacement for Chavez.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.