The Santa Fe school board on Wednesday approved a nearly $259.5 million operating budget for 2021-22, down about 2 percent from the current year.
But officials said the spending plan — due June 1 to the New Mexico Public Education Department — remains uncertain. State and federal revenue could boost the district’s budget, while enrollment changes locally and statewide could squeeze it further.
“This year more than ever, it’s an evolving picture,” board President Kate Noble said during a virtual meeting Wednesday night.
The district is still waiting to hear about some federal pandemic aid and state funding from a new Family Income Index signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The legislation directs the Public Education Department to allocate $15 million over the next two years to schools with the highest rates of low-income students.
Outgoing Superintendent Veronica García told the board she wasn’t yet certain when the district would see Family Income Index funds.
She noted later the money could make a huge difference for Santa Fe Public Schools.
Interim Chief Financial Officer Robert Martinez II — who will step into the permanent position in the new school year — said adjustments in coming months could put the district’s budget closer to $300 million.
About $6 million is from the state’s Extended Learning program, which adds days to the calendar — in part to make up for time lost amid the pandemic, when students were learning remotely. The program is pushing the school’s year’s start to Aug. 6.
Still, questions remain about how enrollment numbers will affect state funding. If the district sees a 1 percent increase by October, the state could provide additional funds. If public schools statewide see enrollment gains, however, the state could decrease unit values in its per-student funding formula, leading to losses for the district.
“If kids come back across the state,” García said, “my guess is the unit value will go down unless the [Public Education Department] held back a certain amount of money.”
Last month, the district called student enrollment a “primary driver” for the budget, estimating a decline of about 615 students this year could create a $6 million deficit.
The initial impact was forecast at around $7.2 million, but the district said “right-sizing” staff in schools helped narrow the gap.
“That is, in a lot of ways, the story of this year’s budget,” Noble said in an interview before Wednesday’s meeting. “Enrollment declines.”
A presentation to the board showed 38 percent of those 615 students transferred to another public district or to a charter school, 21 percent enrolled at private schools and 14 percent moved out of state.
Sixty-eight percent of the district’s student withdrawals were in elementary schools.
García said the district is working on a campaign to alert the community that schools are fully open, with a goal of building back enrollment.
She pointed out the budget includes not only the state-mandated 1.5 percent salary hikes for employees but also an absorption of employee benefit cost increases totaling $440,000.
“If the board were not picking up this increase, employees actually would see half a percent less when they got their raises,” García said.