Lawyers may head back to court in the Yazzie/Martinez versus the state of New Mexico lawsuit. As school districts around the state cobble their budgets, many will find where the Lord giveth, so also does He taketh away.

    The aforementioned case arose from the state continually shaving education budgets during the past decade. While legislators cried shriveling budgets annually, plaintiffs in the Yazzie case argued the state had to provide enough funds to support a quality education to all children and to do so, it was up to the legislature to secure those funds.

    The $462 million boost to education state leaders boasted during the recent legislative session came mostly because of a boost in oil and gas revenue during the past eight months, a by-product of higher oil costs globally. We all know too well the roller coaster ride oil and gas production provides for New Mexicans.

    However, after reviewing Española School District’s Fiscal Year 2020 revenue projections, it’s clear that $462 million needs a great big asterisk by it. Most of that boost comes in the form of a longer school year and the funds associated with those additional teaching days.

    While the unit value, or the amount each district is paid per student, per school year, increased by $375, the state cut other areas and dangled the huge carrot that is the K5 Plus Program.

    The revenue areas cut by state include a 5 percent cut in kindergarten, a 7 percent cut to Class D Special Education and a 2 percent cut to ancillary pay. Those cuts result in a $323,923 hair cut to a $33.5 million budget. Not good, but not the end of the world.

    But wait, there’s more. Two other big cuts came from a change in supplementing small school funding and paying for teacher training.

    Española enjoyed a $1.2 million boost for help funding its small schools. This funding has probably kept small schools like Velarde Elementary and Hernandez Elementary open. The way the funding formula works, the smaller the student population, the less money the school receives. In steps the small school funding to create equity.

    That was cut from $1.2 million to $678,764, a 42 percent cut. This could mean small schools are in trouble.

    Training added a $564,760 cut to the District’s budget. One of the first things the state said when it took over the District’s finances was teachers need help. We need more teachers and they need to be trained up to the next level. The District implemented a Professional Development Program, which ensured all teachers were trained in needed areas, evaluated and coached.

    All of this is expensive. Scan a sample of the District’s check written monthly and you’ll see some eye-poppers written to people providing the training. It’s needed and it’s paying off. Many teachers agree they’re better teachers and see some of the teachers who were once struggling, now excelling.

    District Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez did not have an answer for the training issue at an April 23 budget workshop. The short answer is: less training.

    To pick up about $3 million, the District could extend the school year by 10 days. That’s a viable option but with extending the school year come myriad costs, as yet undetermined. Gutierrez is working at establishing the extended school year but we are in May and budgets must be in by June 30. There are many boxes to check and bureaucrat signatures to secure before adding 10 days to the school year.

    This is a prime example of poor project planning being thrust on school districts. Instead of asking for a well thought-out plan with personnel secured, training established and timelines in place, it’s: here’s the money figure out over the next month how to qualify for it.

    The better option was K5 Plus but that was approved and funded April 1 and districts had until April 19 to commit to the program. The requirements for K5 Plus are many and complicated. Suffice to say schools could not commit because there was no time to plan, hire, budget and implement the Program. It was very unreasonable to ask schools to do so.

    This shuffling of costs and giving lip service to a huge increase, when it was actually new programs being funded, is disingenuous. Most school districts operate by the Student Equalization Guarantee. That unit value number, combined with the previous year’s student population on  (an average of the 80th and  120th day census) drives their budgets.

    The unit value was increased $375 for Fiscal Year 2020 to $4,565. However, it was $4,730 in 2008. Referring to that roller coaster ride, no one can state for certain what the unit value will be next year.

    The state still has some work to do properly funding education in New Mexico.

Enjoy reading the SUN online? Then you'll love the print version. This is just one of the 25 local news, opinion, arts and sports stories published in the May 2, 2019 edition. To see the rest, buy a copy from one of our vendors on the street or at one of these locations.

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