This week, SFR quizzed the three candidates for District 1 of Santa Fe Public Schools' Board of Education. After the jump, their answers on a few more topics--budgets, transparency and whether board members should be qualified to manage a Starbucks.
Scroll all the way down for the answers.
1. Name all the schools in your district.
2. What is the average percent of English Language Learners and of economically disadvantaged students in your district?
3. What is the total operating budget of SFPS?
4. What is the State Equalization Guarantee, and how does it work?
5. There have been some complaints that SFPS board members don’t have the financial expertise to help manage a school district. This is a two-part question: First, what qualifies you to do this? Second, do you think there should be financial or other experience requirements for board members or superintendents?
Age 50, “between careers” but working as a server at the Cowgirl
1. I have Santa Fe High, Capshaw Middle School, and for elementary schools I have, uh, EJ Martinez, Piñon Elementary and then Chaparral Elementary. And Kaune was one of my elementary schools; however, it was closed.
2. I know economically disadvantaged is close to 50 percent. I think it’s just over or under 48. And then for English Language Learners--let me just think of the whole district--I imagine it’s close to like 60.
3. I believe it’s, ah, close to $90 million.
4. It’s how much money all the districts get, and it works by assigning a dollar amount per unit. So--they use the term ‘unit’ instead of students, and I know some people find that disconcerning, but that’s because if a student is economic disadvantaged or in some way is disabled, the unit--the cost of providing education for that student goes up, so that’s why they use the term ‘unit.’ I believe I just said it stands for State Equalization Guarantee--or maybe you said that--and what it is is how much money goes into the district. And what’s different about Santa Fe is that where most districts in the country get their money from property taxes, all of our money goes into one big pot, in the Public Education Department, and then it’s divvied up to the different districts. So we’re not able to even really supplement the unit cost, if you will--the expenses that we need covered--with property taxes or something that was locally based.5. I’ll pick number two first, and no, there should not be, because you want to get a cross-section of people from the community to be on the board. I don’t feel like it needs to be a requirement because I feel that’s why you have--you hire a very capable superintendent that has that management and budget experience, and then she hires people that have a great deal of experience with budgets to work for her. What makes me experienced is that I have dealt with budgets and payrolls and all the human resources issues related to budgets. And--yeah. I would say that that’s what makes me qualified. And a lot of that experience came from working for major hotels.
Questions: Mary Ellen Gonzales
65, current board member
1. OK, schools in my district: Piñon, Chaparral, EJ Martinez, Capshaw and Santa Fe High School.
2. In my district? You know, I worry so much more about our own dist--the whole district than I do about my schools. Uh, let’s see. I’m gonna say, English language learners in my district--let’s see; I’ve got Chaparral; I’ve got Piñon; um--I’ve got Santa Fe High. So I probably have about 25 percent English language learners. And--free and reduced lunch is going to be--oh, let’s see. I don’t have any Provision 2 schools anymore since we closed Kaune. Uh--wow. Free and reduced lunch, probably 30, 35 percent? That’s a real serious guess.
3. The total operating budget--so you’re not talking about the total budget; just--and the operating budget would include the SEG, right? Yes. OK, so the SEG I believe was about $80 million and special stuff--that would be food services and all the grants and blah-blah-blah, that would be $21 million, so that’s about $100 to $101 million.
4. The State Equalization Guarantee--because the state of New Mexico--we get basically the bulk of our operational funding through the state, the state equalization funding guarantee means that every single student in the state of New Mexico, no matter where they live, has the same financial opportunity for, um, for a good education. And that’s--and then the state funding--the formula recognizes that in certain places, it’s more difficult to provide an education. For example, if you have a really tiny school, it’s really hard to provide all the qualified teachers, and if you have a school district that’s flung from here to hither, thither and yon, you need more money for buses. So there’s all kinds of additions and things that they make to that funding formula. So that’s what it is. Oh, and how it works. How it works: it’s on a unit basis, and every student generates more than one unit. There is not a single student category that generates less than a unit. And then all the additions--so, I think that I’ve--a first grader, for example, is 1.2 units. A fourth grader is probably 1.1 unit. A high school student is 1.25 units, so they’re all different units. And then you get different units based on your teachers’ training--how much exper--how much education they’ve had and experience, how many years they’ve been in the job. You get extra units for if you’ve got small schools; you get extra units if you’re really a far-flung district; you get extra units for elementary art and music education; you get extra units for at-risk factors; you get extra units for density; you get extra units for all kinds of things. Does that answer the question?
5. OK, part A: What makes me qualified to do this? Um, I have made it a priority to study school board budgets and how they work--and they are very complicated, and what I gave you just now is a really rough thing; I mean, it’s like, that’s $80 million. It’s $79,500,000--that’s before the state cut the 3.2 percent, and then the federal government added some back, and then we’ve had a $90,000--you know. So that was what--the $80 million was what was approved by the PED back in May, and it’s really a moving target. So I--but I have spent a lot of time studying that, and I used to complain that we needed more financial instruction and more instruction on how to understand budgets and all that sort of thing to the New Mexico School Boards Association, which is charged with giving us our training. And it finally dawned on me after about three years of bitching and moaning and complaining that if I really wanted this kind of information, I was going to have to go find it myself. I have spent hours and hours and hours studying--Karen Snow was unbelievably helpful; John--no, no; let me see. It was Karen Snow and then it was Michael Irwin and Dr. Mel Morgan, um, have really helped me, and so I have a presentation that I put together, uh, that I give at school board association meetings, and I have had superintendents attend those meetings and thank me and tell me they learned stuff, which kind of scares me. But anyway, that’s why I think--and you see, we’re not supposed to be experts. That’s not what the law says. So we do need to have better than an average bear’s understanding, and I believe that I do because the New Mexico School Boards Association thinks I do because they’re the--because I’m the one they look to; I’m the one they call. They say, ‘Would you give your presentation?’ and I say, ‘Fine.’ So that’s why I think I’m qualified to do this, and I have attended the budget technical reviews, so you know--and I attended all the budget meetings last spring and the spring before and all of them that we had at the different schools. So I’ve really made an effort to really learn it. Now, the second part of the question was, should that kind of training be required. Is that correct?
Yes--no. I’m asking whether board members should be required have some kind of experience before being elected or hired.
Let’s talk about board members and superintendents separately because I think they’re very, very separate. Um, so should a person have some kind of financial experience before they’re even allowed to run for school board? No. Should they be required to take a lot of training after they’re elected? Absolutely. But not coming in--because now what are we talking about? Are we talking about general CPA accounting? Are we talking about government accounting? What about somebody who’s been responsible for a hospital budget? I mean, you know, there’s all that kind of stuff. So for board members, no. But training, once you have been elected, yes.Superintendents--absolutely, you better believe it, oh my god yes! Um, and to be a superintendent one has to have a level 3 administrator’s license. And part of that level 3 administrator’s license is taking a--at least a--I think--I don’t know how extensive the course is, um, in finance. I know that Dr. Mel Morgan is who teaches it for superintendents. So it is required, and it should be required. Continuing training should be required. Now, it is also--and I’m going to put a third caveat on there that you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you what I think. The Legislature dictates basically what we have to do as far as our chart of accounts and how we have to report it. I say--and the Legislature decided what to do in order to make the state of New Mexico comply with the rest of the United States, and so a bunch of accountants designed it. It’s not at all feasible and understandable for normal everyday human beings to understand it. I believe that absolutely we probably need to have this very complicated chart of accounts that doesn’t make any sense so that we are comparison--comparable to the rest of the United States. However, I believe that it should be a part of the law that every school district should--and you can’t do this with what we’ve got now--should report: ‘This is how much we spend on teachers. This is how much we spend on EAs. This is how much we spend on--on gas. This is how much we spend on’--in other words, like a one-page summary that’s understandable. Does that make sense? I would love--and I have talked to legislators about this, and they look at me like I’ve got two heads. So I guess I’ve got two heads, I don’t know. That’s what I think, even if it gives me two heads. Maybe the problem is I’ve only got half a head, but I do believe that it is very, very, very difficult for the general public and for board members to understand all this stuff. And it shouldn’t be.
56, financial adviser and Certified Public Accountant
1. Capshaw, Piñon, EJ Martinez, Chaparral, Santa Fe High and--just a little bit of Wood Gormley.
2. English Language Learners--I’d estimate 35 percent--and I’m sorry; the second question? Economically disadvantaged students. Probably estimating, um, 65 percent.
3. It’s approximately $80 million.
4. It’s decided at the state level, and the Legislature determines how much money will be available for public schools throughout New Mexico. The theory behind the equalization formula, that every student--they call them ‘units’--receives the same amount of compensation to that school. So the idea [is] that a student in Truth or Consequences is treated the same as a student in Santa Fe.5. First part: I am a Certified Public Accountant; I have audit experience; and I’ve spent 30 years in the accounting business, so I think I’m fairly familiar with books and records and how school districts operate. I’ve also volunteered for 15 years; I’m currently chair of the audit committee as well. And the second question is, no. I don’t believe there should be a requirement, um, to--of any sort to run for the school board.
1. Santa Fe High School, Capshaw Middle School, Chaparral Elementary, E.J. Martinez Elementary, Piñon Elementary
2. In 2009, the average percent of English Language Learners at District 1 schools was 18.64 percent, and the average percent of economically disadvantaged students was 58.52 percent, according to the school report cards available on SFPS’ website.
3. While the original 2010-11 budget was projected to be approximately $89 million, more recent estimates have been closer to $81 million.
4. According to a 2009 report by the New Mexico Public Education Department, the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) is “the amount of money the State of New Mexico ‘guarantees’ to provide to the district to defray most of the program cost,” or the cost of providing educational services to students. SEG money is appropriated based on the number of “units,” a calculation of the number of full-time students and their varying needs, in a given district.