Three-tiered plan causes concerns for school board

By Tony Parra

Portales Schools Finance Director Murphy Quick presented a rough draft of the 2004-05 budget to the school board members on Wednesday and all of the talk was regarding what effect a three-tier licensure will cause to the budget.
The New Mexico Legislature approved House Bill 212 to implement a three-tier plan to increase teachers’ salaries. According to House Bill 212, in 2004-05, level two teachers with a standard nine-and-a-half-month contract will be paid $35,000 and in 2005-06 and $40,000 in 2006-07.
Quick is anticipating an increase of $750,000 in salary cost, with benefits included, to the payroll for 2004-05 because of the three-tier plan. He said there are early childhood teachers who were getting paid under $30,000 and that the number is going to jump to $35,000 for each one of them.
“It’s hit us pretty hard,” Quick said. “It’s not that the teachers don’t deserve it, because they do. The problem is that it’s not funded adequately.”
Quick said for the 2003-04 budget, Portales school officials had to use more than $1 million of a carryover amount from the 2002-03 budget to cover costs then. He anticipates having to use $970,000 of this year’s carryover amount to cover the increase for the 2004-05 budget.
According to Quick, there are no emergency reserves in the budget and the fear is that there will no longer be carryover money to compensate for the teacher salary increases.
“We desperately need reserves,” Quick said. “We are balancing budgets with no cash reserves. The state is underfunding the salary increases.”
Portales Schools Superintendent Jim Holloway and Quick said they have heard the three-tier plan is affecting other state schools.
“Misery loves company,” Holloway said. “We’re not the only ones in this condition. I’ve heard that Moriarity is not going to be able to make the 2 percent increase without cutting 15 teachers. They don’t have the money to be able to implement the 2 percent increase. We can’t sit here and assume someone is going to fight for us. Our school officials have to meet with lobbyists and legislators.”
Quick said he also heard of another school that will probably only implement a 1 percent increase in salaries and not a 2 percent increase like Portales is doing. Quick said they don’t see any teacher cuts for next year, but did say that Portales schools’ principals would like to have additional staff.
Principal Melvin Nusser agreed he would like to see additional staff at the high school.
“I don’t believe there isn’t a campus that would like additional staff,” Quick said.
Holloway said he would like to see the budget approved by May 10th, the date for the next school board meeting.
“I think it’s a great budget,” board member David Brooks said, optimistically. “I think the state will approve it and I’m sure we’ll approve it.”