School district reports clean audit, hears new book complaint


Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Ignacio Ruiz congratulated the district’s top financial officer, Chenyu “Alex” Liu, Tuesday evening for an annual financial audit that contained zero findings, a rare and difficult achievement for a government agency, particularly one of the size of the second-largest school district in New Mexico.

The annual financial audit is completed by an independent auditing firm recognized by the State Auditor’s office. The report, released to the public at the end of January, delivers an “unmodified” opinion — the highest quality of opinion based on the agency’s financial statements and examination of how the district handles and documents public funds.

It is common for audit reports to report findings, which range from minor deviations from accounting standards to significant deficiencies or material weaknesses. An audit with no findings for a large agency that handles state and federal funds is a rare achievement, Ruiz noted.

The school board’s meeting opened with a full minute of silence in commemoration of Las Cruces police officer Jonah Hernandez, who was killed on duty on Feb. 11. Much of the business meeting involved routine business, celebrations and updates on strategic planning at the district.

Ruiz also reported that his administration had essentially completed its revision of regulations enforcing two policies pertaining to challenges of books at school libraries: One pertaining to books assigned as course material, the other to books included in libraries for optional reading. The changes had been directed by the school board after a formal complaint about a book at Mayfield High School’s library was handled using the wrong procedure.

The complainants, who had challenged the presence of L.C. Rosen’s young adult novel, “Jack of Hearts (and other parts),” for being sexually explicit and inappropriate for minors, have the option of filing a new challenge to the book under the correct procedure, which includes a review of the book by a committee which could recommend removing a book. The removal would need to be agreed to by the superintendent and the school board.

Juan Garcia and Sarah Smith, the residents who challenged that book, appeared before the school board at Tuesday’s meeting to flag another book: “A Court of Silver Flames” by Sarah J. Maas. The novel is the fourth in a series of romance fantasies and includes sexually explicit passages, which Garcia and Smith read aloud to the school board during public comments.

They stated that the book is available in the high schools’ libraries as well as one middle school library, and objected to its availability for minors. Garcia suggested its inclusion may have been a deliberate effort to “normalize” descriptions of sexual behavior and those acts themselves for children. Garcia suggested any minors present in the meeting room take leave as he proceeded to read a passage that included frank language and sexual images.

“How is this educational material?” Garcia asked.

Smith argued that there was.a “systemic problem” leading to age-inappropriate books being available in the libraries, and asked for a review committee to be established for screening library books as well as an audit into books currently on the stacks.

As is customary with public comments, the school board did not respond to the arguments presented during the open session, as the matter was not on the agenda.

Ruiz said revised regulations under policies KEF and KEC would be published on the district’s website this week, clarifying the selection process for advisory committees when a book or course material is challenged, and to ensure compliance with the collective bargaining agreement that covers teachers and some other school staff.

On Jan. 30, the board unanimously voted to disband the review committee that had cleared

“Jack of Hearts (and other parts)” for continued inclusion in Mayfield’s library, and signaled that Smith and Garcia could refile their complaint if they chose.

Las Cruces Public School, Audit, Book complaint