Superintendent worries about budget gap

By Tony Parra

The state budget approved Wednesday by the House would be “devastating” for Portales public schools if it’s approved by the Senate, Portales Superintendent James Holloway said on Thursday.
Holloway said the $4.7 billion proposed budget includes $2.1 billion for public schools — but Portales’ share will fall more than $1 million below budget expectations.
Holloway said about 80 percent (approximately 140) of Portales’ 175 teachers would qualify for level 2 or level 3 status.
The teachers which qualify for state-mandated raises next school year, which adds up to a $680,000 budget increase. But if the proposed budget is approved, he said Portales will receive $500,000 less than it received last year. That’s a $1.18 million gap.
“It would be devastating,” Holloway said. “If the budget is passed there would be a significant problem.”
New Mexico legislators adopted House Bill 212 in 2003, which created a three-tier licensure system for teachers.
Level one was implemented in the 2004-05 state budget so that teachers with one to three years experience would be paid at least $30,000 a year. Level two teachers (four to six years experience) would receive at least $35,000 a year. Under the proposed budget, the level two and three teachers (with more than four years experience) will be paid $40,000 a year for the 2005-06 budget.
Holloway said about 140 of Portales’ teachers will qualify for $5,000 raises next school year. Holloway said some of the teachers already make $36,000 or $37,000 so they would only get raises up to the $40,000 scale.
“There would have to be a loss of programs or loss of teachers,” Holloway said. “We would have to cut teachers A and B to be able to pay for salary increases for teachers C and D. You can’t tell us (we’re required) to do this (licensure system) and not fund it.”
Holloway said school officials may have to dip into cash reserves, which is between $150,000 to $200,000, to help pay for the costs. Holloway said the first option would be to look at cutting teachers, followed by programs. According to Holloway, he’s had to cut 13 teachers in the last four years to make the budget work.
Holloway said the money in cash reserves is not a recurring revenue and would leave the school with no money to fall back on for the next year.
Tom Sullivan, Executive Director of the New Mexico Superintendents Association, said he is optimistic legislators will fund the three-tier licensure adequately during this budgeting process.
However, he has concerns about other issues, such as a 1.25-percent pay raise for public school employees that are not teachers, including principals, librarians and counselors. Sullivan said only teachers qualify for the three-tier licensure, so the boosts to $40,000 don’t apply to principals, librarians and counselors.
“The 1.25 percent would mean a pay cut for those employees,” Sullivan said, “(because) the 1.25 percent will not generate enough money to offset the rising insurance costs. Employees will have to pay out of pocket for the insurance costs.”
Sullivan also said not enough money is being allocated for fixed costs such as utilities or enrollment growth. Sullivan said an additional $14 million to the public schools’ budget would cover the shortfall.
Sullivan said the budget bill will be in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said she is concerned about the fixed costs and enrollment growth costs.
Kernan said the House Education committe recommended $3.6 million for fixed costs, but it was cut down to $2.1 million on House Bill 2. The House Education committee recommended $16.7 million for enrollment growth, but that number was trimmed down to $11.9 million on House Bill 2.
“That number (for fixed costs) is short,” Kernan said. “It’s not quite enough to cover rising costs of utilities (and) costs the schools have no control over.”
Kernan said the 1.25 percent increase for all public school employees who do not qualify under the three-tier licensure is also insufficient. Kernan believes that needs to be pushed up to around 2 percent, while Sullivan feels the number needs to be at 3 percent.
Calls were placed to the offices of other local representatives — Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales; Rep. Brian K. Moore, R-Clayton and Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell — on Friday, but not returned.
Holloway suggested money could be taken out of proposed tax cuts. Gov. Bill Richardson is proposing an approximate $26 million tax-cut package, including tax breaks for single parents and low- and middle-income taxpayers, according to wire reports.
“I’m not sure we need tax cuts with the state struggling to function properly,” Sullivan said. “Tax cuts sound nice, but not at this time.”
Dora Superintendent Jim Reed said the licensure, insurance and other costs will mean a $10,000 increase to Dora’s school budget. Reed said the big concern for Dora officials will come in two years.
“In two years, when teachers qualify to make $50,000, it will affect us greatly,” Reed said. “It will require better funding or we’ll have to cut teachers in order to implement the mandates.”