Questa school board struggles with budget shortfall, considers cuts

Residents express disappointment in basketball coach firing

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The Questa Independent Schools Board of Education met Monday (Oct. 23) for a regular meeting in the Alta Vista gymnasium, in which public comments touched on several issues from a budget crisis to the firing of basketball coach Tomas Madrid.

The meeting was a continuation of an Oct. 17 meeting that the board had to change to a later date due to the large number of community members who had shown up for the meeting, apparently to voice their dismay at Madrid's termination. During the rescheduled meeting, to which fewer people from the community turned out, the board heard comments regarding the district's finances, Madrid's termination and pleas for the community to work together to sort out differences and get through difficult times.

The board weighed in on the budget problems.

"It's a serious issue," board President Daryl Ortega said of budget cuts during the meeting. "We're going to need to make some cuts - pretty drastic - pretty soon."

According to Ortega, the district is still working to fill a $120,000 budget shortfall and is looking to save extra money for the future. Saving electricity and having staff out of buildings by 5 p.m. is one method the board has tried in saving money, but those actions caught some opposition from teachers who spoke out at the meeting saying it doesn't leave enough time for them to get needed instructions completed. The board felt this was necessary to try and keep electricity costs at a minimum.

Despite the financial woes, Ortega and the board assured the public they will be working in focus groups and holding community meetings to look at alternative options to save money and shore up the holes in the budget. New Superintendent David Albert also assured the public that the administration was trying to fix the budget. During the meeting, Albert said the district is looking everywhere to make cuts other than the classroom and teachers.

"The last place we're going to look for budget cuts is personnel," said Albert. "We're strongly looking at wastage. We have been trying to look at a number of ways to save money besides personnel."

The board's members also recognized outstanding performance in their district during the meeting by holding a small award ceremony for junior Sierra Cisneros, who was handed the Student Award of Excellence from the National Leadership Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists. Cisneros spent three days in Boston, Massachusetts, learning of the medical field from doctors and attending seminars with demonstrations of surgery, applications and other sections of health care. The Questa junior has aspirations to become a doctor and specialize in pediatrics once she finishes high school.

"I'm very proud of my daughter," said her father, Gerald Cisneros. "A lot of work has paid off. Her heart is where it's at. She loves taking care of people, especially little kids."

In addition to individual efforts, the board also recognized Questa High School and Río Costilla Southwest Learning Academy for their B grades from the Public Education Department. Río Costilla maintains its B from the previous year's grade. QHS moves up from a C, giving the school the highest public high school grade in Taos County. The grades are determined by the state Public Education Department. Ortega requested a plaque be made for both schools commemorating their achievements. Other schools in Questa have set goals to improve their grades in the upcoming school year.

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