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Aguilar School Board in the hot seat

by Bill Knowles
AGUILAR- After a contentious meeting on Thursday April 7, RE-6 school board members quickly left a room full of angry and stunned citizens who had hoped to see at least one vacant board seat filled and the resignation of several sitting board members.
A spokesperson for the group Concerned Citizens of Aguilar called for the resignation of the Aguilar Board of Education earlier in the week. The demand came in the middle of budget work and contract talks with the Aguilar school staff. The board hasn’t responded to the call for resignations and has refused to comment.
The demand has apparently resulted in Miriam Marquez receiving a death threat on April 1. She is with the Concerned Citizens of Aguilar. “We came home from a meeting around noon. There was a phone call. It was a death threat,” said Ben Marquez, the husband of Miriam Marquez. “We don’t know who it was.” Miriam Marquez has been active in calling for the resignation of the RE-6 school board.
In the special meeting on Thursday, the board was cautioned by District Superintendent Joanne Hilton-Gabeler, to be careful in their approach as they interview teachers and staff over the next couple of weeks. Board Secretary, Marc Piano indicated that he wanted to read the evaluations of the teachers before interviewing them, prior to approving contracts for the 2011-2012 school year. Hilton-Gabeler said, “I had to caution the board that the evaluations are very confidential and that the information contained in those evaluations absolutely could not leave the school’s office or it could set us up for a very serious law suit.”
Piano also indicated that he wanted to interview the staff before approving contracts, a job done by the superintendent, with the board approving the contracts. In part, the controversy engulfing the board swirls around board secretary Marc Piano. Miriam Marquez has felt concern over the record of domestic violence in Piano’s background.
Piano has a history of minor offenses. However in July of 1999 he was arrested by the Las Animas County Sheriff on charges of harassment, assault and domestic violence. He lodged a guilty plea on the domestic violence charge, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to undergo a domestic violence evaluation, pay court costs and pay a fine of $168. He had also been convicted in 1997 on one charge each of assault and domestic violence. He served probation sentences in both these incidents.
Seven board members make up the RE-6 school district board, however two seats are open due to board members resigning their seats. One has resigned due to health reasons and a second resigned because of press coverage.
During the special meeting, the board began to consider filling the empty seats. Earlier in the week they had received a letter of interest from Dave Pagnetta. However four more letters were received by the board the day of the meeting.
After discussion the board decided to call the absent member and go through a motion to nominate Pagnetta to fill an empty seat. The motion was seconded and the vote was 4-1 against Pagnetta, with board member Vicky Huffman voting for Pagnetta. The board will consider the other interested parties at a later meeting.
Individuals who are members of Concerned Citizens of Aguilar have made a connection between the turnover of teachers, principals and superintendents and student performance. The district has seen a revolving door of staff over the past several years. Aguilar has had six superintendents in the past 10 years. One parent complained that her daughter has had several teachers in one class over the course of the current year.
Enrollment for Aguilar stands at 98 students. However with the problems surrounding the school board and the turnover of teachers and administrators in the recent past, the school has seen 10 students transfer out of district to other schools.