Despite a projected increase of $7.1 million in state funds allocated to Santa Fe Public Schools for next year through legislation designed to meet the requirements of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, including money for at-risk students and employee salaries, the SFPS budget for the 2019-2020 school year is still looking at a deficit of $2.3 million.
In part, that's because the $2.55 million in additional funding that the district brought in from the 2017 sale of the Alvord Elementary School campus is running out, and the district now faces some tough decisions about what programs to keep and which to cut, according a new budget report presented to the board on April 22.
"There's no question that we have a lot of tough decisions to make," said board President Kate Noble at the meeting.
About $6.7 million of the $7.1 million generated by changes made to New Mexico's education funding formula will go directly to the 6% salary increase that was part of a judge's mandate in the Yazzie-Martinez case.
There's no question that teachers and staff at Santa Fe schools need the raise. Salaries for support staff such as secretaries, school bus drivers and custodians stayed the same or rose by no more than 3% per year between 2014 and 2018, and for some categories of employees, salaries actually dropped by as much as 1.5%, the report says. Teacher salaries in New Mexico have historically been lower than surrounding states, making it hard to retain talent.
Yet with most of the state funding going to salary increases next year, there's little left over in the SFPS budget to cover other costs such as increase in utilities, employee benefits, and board initiatives designed to combat low math, science and literacy rates.
The Alvord campus sale provided the board with a non-recurring funding source for a few years of additional learning initiatives such as professional development for teachers, safety and school counseling, athletic departments, first grade literacy, expansion of computer science programs, and other math and science initiatives.
District Assistant Superintendent Jeff Gephart tells SFR the board knew funds for these initiatives would eventually run out and designed them with this fate in mind by strategically investing in staff training, materials, and pilot programs that required large investments to get off the ground but will require less money going forward. Still, to make up the $2.3 million dollar deficit, some things will need to get cut altogether.
In a state that ranked 50th in public education in 2018 according to several national studies and reports, members of the SFPS Board of Education regard the continuation of these programs as crucial to the success of Santa Fe students.
"Science embedded in the fourth grade. First-grade literacy. Is that important to us or not?" asked board member Steven Carrillo, who railed against the Legislature for not providing enough funding to continue existing initiatives targeted towards at-risk students, such as Community In Schools, a program that uses some public money to place coordinators into Santa Fe schools with the highest percentages of at-risk students to help identify what extra support services they might need to succeed.
Board member Maureen Cashmon added that CIS "was part of what the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit was about. Our kids need more in the classroom, they need those wraparound services, they need those councilors, those social workers."
"We cannot compromise in HR and recruitment, because if we start cutting off the inputs of our teachers, we are strangling ourselves," said Noble.
Yet if no administrative or programming costs are cut, the funds will have to come from the SFPS cash balance, which could lower its bond rating.
"We would hate to see any of these things not funded," Superintendent Veronica Garcia said at the meeting. "We'll just have to keep working on figuring out how to make our programs more efficient."