The Santa Fe school board unanimously passed a staffing-crisis resolution Thursday night that calls for higher teacher pay statewide and affordable teacher housing locally.
“If we can’t have our [district] staff live and work in Santa Fe, we lose our community,” said board President Kate Noble. “This is the foundation of everything in this community.”
The resolution’s passage came after recent research from New Mexico State University showed high rates of teacher and staff vacancies statewide this fall.
It authorizes creating a task force consisting of district entities and groups such as the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition to address “affordable housing for SFPS employees in the short, medium and long term,” following concerns from teachers about affordable housing in the city.
Before the resolution vote, Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said the district had listed a 10 percent boost in educator pay to compete with neighboring states as one of four priorities for the January legislative session.
A 10 percent increase would bump New Mexico’s starting teacher pay to slightly more than $45,000.
In what Noble called an “extraordinary and maybe unprecedented moment,” there are now seven co-sponsors for a similar resolution on the Santa Fe City Council, she said.
Board Vice President Rudy Garcia, who also sits on the Santa Fe County Commission, said he will introduce the resolution to the commission in late November. He expects it will receive approval there as well.
Resolutions are effectively recommendations and are not binding.
Noble introduced the resolution at a late October board meeting, and administrators and board members have added several sections, including one calling for more recruitment and retention of Indigenous teachers in district schools.
The resolution brought relief for National Education Association Santa Fe President Grace Mayer.
Staffing shortages in the district’s human resources department have created obstacles for potential substitute teachers, Mayer said. That, paired with a lack of new hires, is causing additional stress for staff members trying to adhere to new state-issued back-to-school standards, she said.
In late September, Human Resources Director Howard Oechsner said the district had 120 open teacher spots each day, factoring in vacancies and absences, and not enough substitutes to cover the gaps.
As a stopgap measure, the district combined grades at some schools.
Some administrators have had to take on teaching, while teachers have sold their preparation time back to the district to cover classes.
Also at Thursday’s board meeting, Chavez outlined three other district legislative priorities: no cuts to state educational spending, a “return-to-work” program for retired teachers and a stipulation districts are “held harmless” for pandemic-related enrollment losses when the state calculates per-pupil funding for the next school year.
The school board is set to host a breakfast for Santa Fe’s legislative delegation on Tuesday to discuss those priorities.