Santa Fe Public Schools could see a $7.1 million decrease in its operational budget next year, which could lead to significant cuts, Superintendent Veronica García told the school board earlier this week.

The projection is based on an anticipated enrollment decline of 615 students — from 12,205 students for the 2020-21 school year to 11,590 for 2021-22.

The budget García and her administrative team outlined is what she called a “worst-case” scenario, which she believes won’t be worse than the $10 million hit the district took for the 2020-21 school year.

Thursday’s finance subcommittee meeting marked the first look at next year’s budget. The district has until June 1 to submit its budget to the state Public Education Department for approval.

“I don’t think we will have a scenario like we did last year, when we had a special [legislative] session that cut even more and then they took a credit against the federal funding we were supposed to receive,” García said. “I don’t foresee that happening, so that is a positive.”

The district’s operational budget could see a $2.933 million decrease just from the shrinking enrollment figures, said Robert Martinez, the district’s interim chief financial officer.

Meanwhile, a 1.5 percent increase in teacher pay approved during the 60-day legislative session means the district will have to budget an additional $986,000.

Martinez said the district also could see a $1.94 million decrease in its State Equalization Guarantee allocation, an enrollment-based funding formula that accounts for about 90 percent of public school funding. The complex formula is based on enrollment numbers but heavily weighs factors affecting a school’s student population, such as special-education needs, poverty, the rate of minorities and the number of kids learning English.

García said the district has asked for clarification on the department’s formula. Specifically, she said, the district and the Public Education Department disagree over the district’s ending equalization guarantee balance for the 2019-20 school year, which the department is using to determine which school districts qualify for the so-called hold harmless language the Legislature approved. If a district ends up with less revenue through the formula than it did in 2019-20, the state can offset the loss, García said.

The district said its ending balance was $114 million, while the Public Education Department said it was $106 million. Because the district projects its 2021-22 allocation will be $112 million, García said it could be the difference in receiving some relief from the state.

“Getting that reconciled is crucial to see if we qualify for ‘hold harmless,’ ” García said.

School board President Kate Noble took exception to the “hold harmless” language, especially because school districts statewide experienced similar declines in enrollment.

“A negative impact is defined as a dollar less than what we got when all the units fell out before [in 2019-20],” Noble said. “I would argue there is a negative impact with enrollments.”

(2) comments

Lee DiFiore

This movement away from the public schools would become a landslide if the feds ever allowed and paid for school choice.

Cheryl Meyer

A very real possibility.

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