The superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools is proposing an optimistic budget for 2020-21.
Veronica García said she will present the school board with a $265 million spending plan — an increase of about $5 million over this year’s operating budget — during a public study session Thursday. The proposal includes money for teacher pay raises and summer learning programs, and it keeps most classroom spending intact, she said. It does, however, come with some cuts to full-time administrative positions in the district’s central office.
“We cut from nonrecurring expenditures first and then looked at cuts from district offices, not schools,” said García, whose contract ends in June 2021.
Her budget plan could change significantly, however, following a special legislative session expected in June, when lawmakers will decide how to address a shortfall of up to $2.4 billion in projected state revenues for the next fiscal year. That’s nearly a third of the budget lawmakers and the governor approved earlier this year.
Education funding is likely to take a hit.
Some lawmakers have cited pay raises as a target for cuts.
Along with the uncertainty about state funding, the budget process for New Mexico school districts comes as schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students are finishing the spring semester at home through online learning programs. It’s still unclear if they will return to classrooms for the start of the new school year.
In a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials said opening schools in the fall could be difficult if the viral illness continues to pose a threat.
García and school board members acknowledged the district is likely to see a decline in its state funding.
“Education is a big portion of the state budget, so we will have to see how deep these cuts are,” board President Kate Noble said. “It’s our job to try to keep those cuts away from the classroom.”
One of the board’s top priorities is to support “at-risk students as many families face renewed economic hardship,” Noble said.
“Hopefully something that comes out of this distance learning is a stronger appreciation for educators,” she added. “We should be paying teachers a lot more than we do, and in good times and in bad times we need to be intentionally moving toward that goal.”
One thing she doesn’t expect this spring and summer, Noble said, is renewed discussions on school closures.
Some board members had pushed for closures of aging elementary school buildings in November to address declining student enrollment, but the effort failed.
Board member Sarah Boses, who was elected to her District 2 seat in November after campaigning against school closures, declined to comment on the budget process.
Board member Rudy Garcia cast the deciding vote against closing schools.
Now, he said, he’s worried state cuts will hit schools in his south-side District 4 the hardest and he is open to restarting talks about school closures.
“My district receives the largest portion of at-risk funding, so my priority is keeping as much of that as possible for the less-fortunate kids who really need all the services our schools provide,” Garcia said. “If it’s necessary to look into closing schools, then I’m open to that discussion.”
Correction: This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: An earlier version incorrectly quoted Superintendent Veronica García saying, "We cut from reoccurring expenditures first." García actually said the district was cutting "nonrecurring" spending.