Farmington — For now, the wheels on the Gallup-McKinley County Schools bus will continue to roll into Naschitti.
In a Sept. 6 letter, New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Secretary Paul Aguilar did not order the school district to stop transporting Central Consolidated School District students from Naschitti to schools in Tohatchi.
CCSD Superintendent Don Levinski asked the state Public Education Department in a Sept. 5 letter to issue a cease and desist order against GMCS for allegedly violating state law and transporting students across county lines.
In his response, Aguilar informed GMCS Superintendent Frank Chiapetti about rules regarding bus transportation.
"A school district may not cross school district boundary lines to transport students absent a transportation boundary agreement," Aguilar wrote. "I encourage you and your Board of Education to enter into a transportation boundary agreement with the Central Consolidated School District in compliance with 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 of the New Mexico Administrative Code."
Under the code, districts can enter into transportation boundary agreements with adjoining districts if geographical conditions make it impractical to transport students to schools within the district they reside. The agreement cannot duplicate transportation services, and it must be approved by both school boards prior to a district crossing boundary lines to transport students.
"Transportation boundary agreements are not authorized to provide services to students who attend school out-of-district as a matter of choice," the code states.
The state education department became aware of the issue between the two neighboring school districts after Chiapetti sent a letter Sept. 3 stating that GMCS was transporting students by bus from Naschitti to Tohatchi, crossing the line between McKinley and San Juan counties. Naschitti is located along U.S. Highway 491, about six miles north of the border where the two counties meet.
Aguilar's letter informed GMCS that it would not receive any funding for providing bus transportation.
"Students who attend an out-of-district school as a matter of choice are not eligible to be counted for the transportation distribution of the public school fund," according to the code.
CCSD spokesman James Preminger said the problem with the letter is that it does not order GMCS to stop its transportation services into the county.
The bus transportation started Sept. 3 and continues with one bus picking up and dropping off students at the convenience store in Naschitti, said Chiapetti in an interview Thursday at the GMCS administration building in Gallup.
About 45 students from Naschitti attend schools in Tohatchi, he said. Many of them have been enrolled with GMCS for years, despite CCSD's claims that Gallup-McKinley is stealing students, Chiapetti said.
When GMCS staff collected student data for the New Mexico Activities Association, they found that two football players from Tohatchi High School have been attending Tohatchi schools since kindergarten, he said. Two other students have been in Tohatchi since ninth grade after attending Ch'ooshgai Community School, which goes from kindergarten to eighth grade, he said.
"It's not like this year there is an 'Ah! Let's leave.' This has been going on for 30 years," Chiapetti said.
GMCS decided to implement bus transportation after hearing concerns from parents at the District 14 meeting Aug. 9 in Naschitti.
Chiapetti said parents were concerned with safety, especially since students walk to and from the county line to their homes and because U.S. Highway 491 is expanding from two to four lanes, so traffic will become more of an issue.
"Parents have chosen to put their kids in Gallup schools for their own reasons," Chiapetti said. "We would like to pick them up for safety reasons, and if we're not allowed to, we won't. Unfortunately, there is a lot of mudslinging on the other side -- we're stealing their kids, we're stealing their money, we're cheating."
In Aguilar's letter, he tells Chiapetti to consult with the Navajo Nation since the students reside and are being transported on tribal lands.
According to the code, district administrators must consult with tribal representatives before entering into a transportation boundary agreement.
This process of consulting with the tribe started after Chiapetti attended the District 14 Council meeting in August, where the members passed a resolution supporting GMCS' bus service.
On Friday, both GMCS and CCSD were to met with Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim in Window Rock.
The District 14 Council was scheduled to present its resolution Saturday to the Fort Defiance Agency Council for their concurrence at an agency meeting in Wide Ruins, Ariz.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.