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Aguilar School Superintendent tenders resignation

by Bill Knowles
AGUILA­R- After two years at the helm of the Aguilar School system, District Superintendent JoAnne Hilton-Gabeler has tendered her resignation effective at the close of her 2010-2011 contract on June 30. Her resignation, dated May 4, will be signed and turned over to the board at the May 16 board meeting.
In an earlier interview, Hilton-Gabeler said she has worked with the current board as much as she can. Citing philosophical differences between herself and the board, but going no further, she decided to move on with her career and life. Hilton-Graber is the fifth superintendent over the past 10 years to either be fired or to resign.
In her resignation letter, Hilton-Gabeler also indicated that she expects there may be other resignation letters to come in through the month of May. She didn’t say how many letters of resignation there might be.
Hilton-Gabeler and the board have had recent conflicts over how teacher evaluations are handled. Legal issues concerning personnel and contracts have erupted publicly during board meetings. Board members have been trying to involve themselves in the process of rehiring teachers.
During the April 7 board meeting, Hilton-Gabeler informed the school board that personnel evaluations were sensitive material and for the protection of the district, the material couldn’t leave the office. Hilton-Gabeler insisted that making public notes taken from the evaluations could be viewed as a violation of law and set the district up for “some very serious law suits.”
A recall effort to unseat board president Erlinda Encinias, the board’s secretary Marc Piano, and board member Mary Vigil had been underway earlier this spring. However, after speaking with the Las Animas Clerk’s office, members of the Concerned Citizens recognized that they would not meet deadlines for the November ballot and withdrew the recall.
Another point of contention was the filling of two empty board seats that were created when Heidi Micek and Frank Coppa both resigned in January. On a vote of 3-1 during the April 29 board meeting, Mae Navarette and Cynthia Vigil, were appointed as RE-6 Aguilar school board members. However, it is alleged that their two letters of interest arrived after the published deadline.
After the appointment of the two new board members, several parents indicated that they would probably pull their children out of Aguilar School and send them to Trinidad next school year.
Janice Ramsey, a graduate of Aguilar School said she will be pulling her children from the school and taking them to Trinidad. She acknowledges that the drive time and expense will be difficult challenges to deal with. “There is just no stability. The teachers are wonderful but that tension is there from the board on down and it does affect the kids.
“This decision is even more difficult for me due to the fact my daughter has special needs. A change like this could set her back so much. It’s very heartbreaking to have to leave…the individuals that work with my daughter daily.” Ramsey said.
There were 112 students enrolled at Aguilar at the start of the current school year. So far 20 students have been transfered out to other schools in the region. An additional seven students may be leaving at the end of the year which would drop the enrollment by 13 percent next year. Aguilar is a small rural school looking at a $163,000 budget cut for the 2011-2012 school year. A declining enrollment would further exacerbate a shrinking budget.
Hilton-Gabeler said that the board hasn’t yet really looked at the budget for the 2011-2012 school year. The district has until June 1 to adopt a proposed budget. They then have until June 30 to adopt a more formal budget and get it filed with the Colorado Department of Education.
The next regular meeting of the Aguilar School Board is Monday May 16 at 4:30 at Aguilar School, 420 Balsam.
Hilton-Gabeler said that leaving the district was a sad decision for her. “The school, the students and the staff are wonderful, as are the many, many parents who want the district to be a shining star for their children.”