The Public Education Department and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are asking lawmakers to raise school staffers’ pay by 7 percent across the board and increase teacher salary minimums for next year as the state grapples with more than 1,000 public school teaching vacancies.

It’s part of the department’s $3.85 billion budget request to lawmakers Tuesday. The request amounts to a 13 percent increase from last year’s appropriations, and some educators and lawmakers have voiced concerns about it as January’s regular legislative session nears.

If lawmakers appropriate the $280.5 million needed to both raise wages for school staff — administrators included — and increase teacher salary minimums to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000 annually through the state’s three-tiered licensure system, New Mexico could better compete with surrounding states, said Public Education Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus.

The current minimums range from roughly $40,000 to $60,000, based on experience, and the 7 percent wage increase would only affect teachers who didn’t already receive the bump from the tier increases.

Increased oil and gas revenues in the state this year could make salary and wage increases that much more feasible, Steinhaus said in an interview Wednesday.

National Education Association Santa Fe President Grace Mayer said she wasn’t so excited and is concerned the proposal doesn’t address staff retention issues in different districts.

“Well, that helps for recruitment, but what about retention?” she asked. “Everybody thinks 7 percent, that seems reasonable, but in Santa Fe it’s not even going to make a dent in our problems.”

Santa Fe Public Schools has 50 teacher vacancies, said Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez.

Last year, the state’s public employees saw a 1.5 percent raise, and Mayer expressed doubt that 7 percent would be enough for a district like the one in Santa Fe, where the cost of living is rising fast.

A resolution recently passed by the school board, city councilors and as of this week, county commissioners called for higher wages for teachers, and the Santa Fe district listed a 10 percent school staff pay raise as a legislative priority.

Chavez still praised the 7 percent request and the tiered increases in an interview Wednesday as a way to “get a teacher in front of every single student.”

Steinhaus said Wednesday that 7 percent was “sustainable,” and any increase beyond that would be in lawmakers’ hands.

The two initiatives make up the largest chunk of the Public Education Department’s most recent budget request increases, and Steinhaus said they’re also the most important. The department is also seeking millions for teacher development and recruitment.

The budget request, announced Wednesday, is separate from another proposal from the Public Education Department regarding its operational budget. That request includes a $6 million boost in part to help make permanent staffing positions for education initiatives like the Bilingual Multicultural Act in an effort to reduce department turnover.

Lawmakers who will ultimately approve the state’s budget said they support the pay raise for teachers requested by the department. But, some said, they also want salaries increased for all state employees.

“I definitely think it’s doable and it’s long overdue,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe. “We should take a look at a similar rate for state employees. We’ve got recurring dollars and for too many years these absolutely critical workers have done way more than their job descriptions.”

Sen Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, whose wife is an educator, said he thinks “we’re going to have to raise the pay for everyone in government to remain competitive. We’re seeing that in all levels of every state department. They can’t hire people because everyone’s pay has gone up except in government — at least this year.”

He said there “should be money” to do that in January’s regular legislative session.

Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the governor’s proposed raise for teachers is similar to a Legislative Finance Committee proposal. She too said she’d like to see “all public employees get better salaries because we’re having a lot of trouble getting people to go back to work or even finding people.”

But, she said, “I don’t know if I agree with the idea of increasing teacher tiers.”

Third/fourth grade Dixon Elementary School teacher Samantha Waidler was excited to hear about the department’s request as teachers work to keep up with new initiatives set forth by the state while dealing with the pandemic.

“I think the big thing that’s lacking is respect for educators as professionals,” Waidler said. “I think that a pay raise is definitely an avenue to gain that respect; that’s really important.”

But Waidler, who has a level-three license and recently spoke to the Legislative Education Study Committee about educator working conditions, said an overall lack of teacher autonomy and upward mobility in the career remain an issue.

When asked if an increase to teacher salary minimums would help her stay in the teaching field, Waidler was unsure.

She added, “In fact, it might be a little too late for me.”

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(9) comments

John Cook

We can count on the right-wingers to hate on teachers and education. And rightly so. Educated people aren't gullible enough to be fooled by 'culture wars'. We all remember the former occupant of the Oval Office saying: 'I love the uneducated.' As he should. They are marks for a con man.

Joseph Tafoya

My problem with this announcement is multifaceted. Point 1, I admit there are some teachers whose salaries should be raised, but with New Mexico's educational system consistently wallering near the bottom year after year, how can the government raise salaries across the board be justified? Are the taxpayers or the students getting their money's worth? Point 2, The average salary in New Mexico for a single income earner is approximately $25k before taxes and $49K for a family with two income earners. How do you tell that average income earner that all teachers will be making twice what he is, and his children will still rank near the bottom nationwide? Those students lucky enough to graduate and further their education will leave the state. They will migrate to states with more opportunities. This will further compound New Mexico's poverty, since those that could make a difference left. Point 3, This has the smell of buying votes from one of the largest voting blocks in New Mexico. What's lacking in this proposal is accountability, but with years of legislatures, and Governors putting politics first, there is very accountability in New Mexico's race to the bottom.

Jerry Appel

This is great news for public educators and all state workers. The motivation expressed about competing is fallacious for teachers. I have never seen or read anything that shows teachers migrating to the states with better pay except near state borders. Humans generally don't like uprooting their homes for a few dollars more. Several studies have shown that teachers do not change or truly compete for bonuses. This is capitalist thinking and education is communal. My concern with the raise is how it is being funded. Does New Mexico have the ongoing revenue stream to afford this? Fossil fuel royalties are not consistent. The EV revolution will reduce oil and gas demand in the future. Where will New Mexico be when demand drops to 50 percent of current levels? Most scholars realize that oil and gas demand will not end because of the fact that this resource is used to meet so many modern needs: medicine, plastic, paint, et al. How can any state dependent on fossil fuel royalties move afford its current expenditure levels without a long term plan to move away. My solution is to pour any surplus in revenue into the trust fund and keep growing it for those "unexpected" downturns and future royalty reductions.

Joshua Rosen

Educators in general are hard and dedicated workers. Many teachers, EA's, counselors, nurses, principals, etc. work hard to provide a quality education and deserve adequate pay. The unfortunate part, is they work within a system of bureaucracy that is mandated down from federal government, state, local, and within the school district. Superintendents and administration in the central office need to become more effective and efficient to better support school sites. Students are customers and district officials need to be reminded that more administrative staff and central office takes away from student customers and provides hardships on school sites. All resources and monies need to go directly to school sites and less to district officials to support students and increase student achievement; instead of schools operating on a skeleton system while district administration works from home remote.

Lupe Molina

Is this the cool thing now with right wingnuts? To beat up on school administrators? Why? Is that really where you think waste is coming from? That there's a secret cabal of school admins hoarding public money? Many of the admins work as hard as the teachers. Why aren't we questioning the admin cost when the price of gas goes up, Mike?

Johnny Duran

Molina, have you ever worked with the school district? Have you ever been inside a classroom? Sounds like you haven't! Administration is TOP HEAVY well beyond what the public cares to know. Just check out the SFPS organizational chart below.

Please copy and paste to see google doc

Most of these people make well over 100,000 dollars. Teachers are at the very bottom, yet they are doing the most important part. They teach and care for our Santa Fe kids. Administrators (Principals) treat teachers with disdain and disrespect. It is appalling!

You must not know too, many teachers.

Mike Johnson

Well said Mr. Duran, yes Lupe is pretty loopy on this issue. Perhaps a read of my friends over at Think NM's recent analysis of the bloat, waste, and unnecessary expenses absorbed by administration and how that should be redirected to the classroom might help. It shows how spending per student looks high in NM, but when you look at how much gets siphoned off to wasteful administration costs, and then compare academic results and outcomes per student in places that spend less per student gross, but less of that is administration, the solution is clear, at least to an intelligent person.....

Steve Fitzer

This is good news. I only hope school administrators wont be lining up with their hands out. As the teacher points out upward mobility is nearly impossible. I work in large school district in S.NM it is so despotic and toxic it's like being hostage to the mafia.

Mike Johnson

Excellent, the teachers badly need this and more. However, there is too much administration, staff, and others that do not contribute to educating the kids, that does not need to be expanded.

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