For now, Santa Fe Public Schools employees will receive pay raises next school year.
The Santa Fe school board unanimously voted to approve a collective bargaining agreements with National Education Association-Santa Fe that includes a minimum average pay increase of 4 percent for all school employees. The contract also raises the district’s minimum wage from $13 to $14 per hour.
“We are getting toward living wages. We are looking at retention, and we are doing the right thing,” Board President Kate Noble said Tuesday. “We have learned during the pandemic that educators and school staff are an essential service. These are front-line workers.”
Though Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a 4 percent raise for public school employees in March, the outcome of a special legislative session at the Capitol this weekend could force the district and the union back to the bargaining table as the state deals with an economic free fall caused by the COVID-19 crisis and a massive drop in oil prices.
As legislators begin discussing how to repair a budget shortfall, the governor is proposing cutting pay raises in half, while the Legislative Finance Committee is going further — proposing slicing salary raises for teachers to 1 percent, or possibly none at all.
Teachers union President Grace Mayer voiced concerns that cuts to the raises could damage the public school workforce and student performance.
“The most influential resource in student achievement is educators and teachers building a relationship with students,” Mayer said. “If the Legislature says, ‘We’re not interested in helping that and we’re going to cut your raises,’ I don’t know if we’re going to have the staff to maintain those connections.”
Superintendent Veronica García, who was the state Public Education Department secretary from 2003 to 2010, agreed.
“Education cuts don’t heal. We need to have qualified educational personnel in our schools at every level,” she said. “We can’t do that if we don’t have competitive salaries.”
During the 2019 Legislative session, New Mexico raised teacher salaries, depending on licensing and education, to either $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000.
Despite that increase, Santa Fe Public Schools started the school year with 32 vacancies for full-time teachers. A report from New Mexico State University in October found 644 teacher vacancies statewide and 410 openings for teaching assistants, counselors, psychologists and other positions.
During the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting, Jennifer St. Claire, a special education teacher at Carlos Gilbert Elementary who has worked in the district for 27 years, told the board that cutting raises would increase that teacher shortage.
“If we cut the education budgets and raises right now, even more teachers will weigh the trade-offs, which include feeling appreciated by our communities, and leave Santa Fe Public Schools,” St. Claire said. “I know I’m doing some serious soul-searching this summer. I can’t even fathom how Santa Fe Public Schools will recruit new teachers if we don’t keep the increases in salaries.”