3/25/10

    Legislation awaiting Gov. Bill Richardson’s signature threatens to cut funding to public school districts and colleges as part of a measure to shore up the budget deficit. But neither the Española School District nor Northern New Mexico College is planning program reductions or layoffs in response to the second round of funding cuts this fiscal year.

    Including state and federal funds, the appropriations bill both houses passed March 3 includes a 1.8 percent reduction to public education funding overall and a 1 percent reduction to the funding formula that reimburses local school districts, Legislative Education Study Committee Deputy Director David Harrell said.

    Those cuts will trim about 1.5 percent, or $495,000, from the Española School District’s operating budget next fiscal year, Superintendent Janette Archuleta said.

    Archuleta said “vacancy savings” — money the District budgeted for salaries but has not spent on unfilled positions — will keep program cuts and layoffs off the table for now.

    “It’s still up in the air, but we’re getting a good assessment of where we are with respect to vacancy savings,” Archuleta said. “These have not been planned, but there are some positions we have not been able to fill.”

    The District’s list of vacancies has included several positions, including special education teachers, gym teachers, educational assistants, a band teacher and an athletic trainer, since the beginning of this school year.

    In fact, the District is planning to use federal Rural and Low-Income School funds to expand services at Española Valley High School next year, including hiring a career counselor, a full-time in-school suspension officer and a school resource officer.

    Española’s teacher’s union liaison Charles Goodmacher said the union is backing the appropriations bill with one change. Goodmacher said the bill contains what is known as a standing amendment which calls for a half-percent reduction in funding to all state agencies. That could result in the loss of 300 to 400 education jobs statewide, or between three and five jobs per school district, Goodmacher said.

    “If the standing amendment is gone, the reduction in force would be less than half of that, because most districts are right on the edge right now,” said Gooodmacher, who would like Richardson to line-item veto the amendment. “Frankly most districts are just not filling jobs that people leave unless it’s really critical.”

    Goodmacher said reinstating higher taxes on people who make over $250,000 could have obviated the need for any cuts to education, but overall the schools dodged a bullet.

    “We would have hoped some of the tax cuts that have been passed were restored so we could have no cuts to education,” Goodmacher said. “There’s no doubt the state needs new revenue sources. But it could have been a real disaster for public education.”

    The legislature also cut $156,000 from the Northern New Mexico College’s fiscal year 2011 budget after cutting $564,000 from its current-year budget during the October 2009 special session, according to Interim President David Trujillo. All told, that means the college will receive $720,000 less in fiscal year 2011 than in 2010, about a 4 percent reduction.

    To deal with those cuts, the college will also rely upon “vacancy savings” and other measures, Trujillo said. He confirmed sending out an e-mail recently to all departments asking for a list of faculty or staff near retirement.

    “We were asking for our planning purposes for managers to identify people ready to retire so we wouldn’t be surprised by it,” Trujillo said. “For us, there are usually some cost-savings involved there.”

    Trujillo said a few people have been identified as “seriously considering” retirement, but he declined to say who because they have not yet made a final decision.

    Trujillo also said concern over mid-year cuts in January 2011, then more cuts for fiscal year 2012, has prompted his administration to begin drafting a budget for fiscal year 2012 alongside its budget for 2011.

    Neither budget will include significant program reductions, Trujillo said.

    “There is money in the world,” Trujillo said. “You just have to go find it.”

    Trujillo said all of Northern’s faculty is being encouraged to apply for new grants to help grow the number of credit hours the college’s students take — and in effect the college’s state funding. Trujillo was the college’s grant director before being appointed interim president in July 2009. He has retained his old job while serving as interim president but admitted it’s been on the back burner lately.

    “Actually (grant revenue) has (dropped off),” Trujillo said. “When you really think about it, if I’m interim president I’m not doing something else. I have two jobs, and being president (takes) up 80 percent of what I’m doing.”

    The College has offered the president’s job to Nancy Barceló but the earliest she would start is July 1, the first day of the next fiscal year. 

    Trujillo also discussed the possibility of re-shaping some of the college’s vocational programs into work force training programs.

    “We would look for places out in our environment where there are labor needs,” Trujillo said. “We would then train those people, and they fill jobs, as opposed to having programs where people say, ‘I want a degree in this or that.’”

    In that format, employers would pay for instructors and training, and then some, as opposed to the college using tuition to pay faculty salaries and program costs, Trujillo said.

    The governor has until Wednesday (3/24) to sign the bills. If he allows the deadline to pass, the bills would be automatically vetoed.

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