Farmington — Central Consolidated School District Superintendent Don Levinski is asking the New Mexico Public Education Department to issue a cease and desist order against Gallup-McKinley County Schools for allegedly violating state law and transporting students across county lines.
In a letter sent Thursday to State Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and Deputy Secretary Paul Aguilar, Levinski wrote that since the start of the school year GMCS has been "illegally enrolling and unlawfully transporting CCSD students" from the Naschitti area to schools in Tohatchi.
Naschitti is located along U.S. Highway 491 and about six miles north of the border where McKinley and San Juan counties meet.
Levinski wrote that if the actions of the GMCS are allowed to stand, "it would set a very dangerous precedent where school districts all across New Mexico can steal students from other districts."
More than 50 students have been enrolled in GMCS, which will cost CCSD more than $500,000 in federal and state funding, he wrote.
Also at stake is construction of the new Naschitti Elementary school, which is estimated to cost $10 million and scheduled for construction in 2014.
"Gallup McKinley taxpayers won't be paying for that new school, and yet they are illegally stealing our students, and leaving our taxpayers and district paying the bill," Levinski wrote.
He also mentioned that he spoke with GMCS Superintendent Frank Chiapetti about the situation.
In that conversation, Levinski mentioned that CCSD would report GMCS' actions to the state education department if they continued and that CCSD is aware about GMCS recruiting athletes to attend Tohatchi High School.
That is in violation of the New Mexico Activities Association, he wrote.
CCSD spokesman James Preminger said the school district does not have a problem with parents deciding to have their children attend schools outside the district. But, he said, it is their responsibility to transport their children to and from those schools.
In the case of GMCS, the district's buses are entering San Juan County without any transportation agreement in place and violating the state's transportation boundary agreement, Preminger said.
State law mandates that school districts must enter into transportation boundary agreements with an adjourning district if geographical conditions make it impractical to transport students to schools within the district they reside in.
In order for such an agreement to be made, the school boards have to approve it.
No such agreement has been made between the two districts.
Larry Behrens, public information officer for the state public education department, said they are aware of the situation.
"We will address the concerns raised on all sides, but first and foremost we will be looking for a solution that is best for students," Behrens said in an email.
A phone call to Chiapetti was not returned by press time, but in a Sept. 3 letter he wrote to Skandera, he stated that 45 students from the Naschitti area have enrolled in Tohatchi schools.
Chiapetti wrote that parents "elected" to have their children enroll in GMCS for a number of reasons.
Those reasons include concerns about the number of Filipino teachers employed at Naschitti Elementary "who have a heavy dialect which their children have a hard time understanding," according to the letter.
Some parents work in Gallup or Window Rock so it is convenient for them to pick up and drop off students, according to the letter. Some parents based their decision on family tradition and are comfortable with the schools and the community.
Chiapetti noted that GMCS buses have historically stopped at the county line. But the District 14 Council, which consists of Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi and Twin Lakes chapters, urged the school district to extend its bus routes into San Juan County because of concerns about traffic, weather conditions, feral dogs and crime.
CCSD board president Matthew Tso also believes GMCS is violating state law and jeopardizing the new elementary school.
He also said there are no Filipino teachers at Naschitti, and Chiapetti's claims are "racist."
In terms of academics, Tso said CCSD schools rank significantly higher than GMCS.
"I'm perplexed and puzzled why parents would send their children down that way," Tso said.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.