Santa Fe Public Schools and teachers union leaders have been negotiating the working conditions and safety requirements in school buildings if the state allows students and staff to return to campuses this year.
The school board will discuss safety precautions and workplace conditions during a virtual special meeting Thursday night that starts with a closed-door session at 4:30 p.m.
Teachers in Santa Fe and across New Mexico are asking for access to novel coronavirus testing and medical-grade personal protective equipment.
Many Santa Fe teachers object to returning to classrooms as coronavirus cases spike in the state. According to a report released Monday, 51 percent of faculty and staff surveyed said they would prefer to start school remotely Aug. 17.
Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of National Education Association-New Mexico, said her own survey of 2,000 public school workers in the state found only 10 percent felt confident about safely reopening schools.
“It’s not the fault of the governor or the Public Education Department, but we just don’t have a rapid-response testing program in place in the state,” Parr-Sanchez said. “Teachers are worried about their health and safety for a lot reasons, but a lack of testing leading to an outbreak is one big fear.”
Parr-Sanchez and Grace Mayer, president of NEA-Santa Fe, said teachers are concerned about the loss of sick leave for those who contract the virus.
However, spokesman David Carl said two Santa Fe district employees who tested positive over the weekend were placed on paid administrative leave that will not count against their sick days.
Superintendent Veronica García will present plans Thursday night for reopening campuses.
But she said her efforts to provide a safe working environment during the pandemic are being complicated by state budget cuts.
The district received around $2.5 million from the federal CARES Act to address safety concerns but lost $1 million in state funding as a result when lawmakers reworked the state budget last month.
García said the CARES Act funding “was intended to help us address all the perplexities and issues of trying to provide education and keep faculty and staff safe.”
She said it was “unconscionable” for the state to reduce its funding for districts that secured the federal dollars.
Santa Fe Public Schools also will have to return to the bargaining table to renegotiate teacher pay raises after lawmakers cut funding for state worker raises across the board.
According to a memo the Public Education Department sent to school leaders Tuesday, funding for 4 percent teacher raises has been reduced to 1 percent.
The memo also says school budget cuts approved during last month’s special session will go into effect in August, even though their scope has not been determined.