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Governor proposes 10% pay hike for new teachers

Gov. Susana Martinez, center, and Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, joined by Sweeney Elementary students, announce a plan to raise teacher pay in Santa Fe on Wednesday. (Eddie Moore/Journal)
Gov. Susana Martinez, center, and Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, joined by Sweeney Elementary students, announce a plan to raise teacher pay in Santa Fe on Wednesday. (Eddie Moore/Journal)
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SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez said Wednesday that she will push to boost New Mexico teacher pay in two ways next year – a 10 percent salary hike for new teachers and stipends for educators who score highly on state-mandated evaluations.

The two initiatives would cost the state roughly $18.5 million in the coming budget year. Both would be subject to legislative approval during the 30-day session that starts Jan. 21.

“Those who are most effective with their students should be rewarded and recognized financially,” Martinez told a news conference at a Santa Fe elementary school.

Later, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Education Committee questioned why only new teachers would receive a pay hike under the governor’s plan.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, also cited numerous criticisms of the teacher evaluation system, which the Public Education Department enacted administratively this year after trying unsuccessfully to gain legislative approval.

“Basing additional pay for teachers on a flawed system is dangerous,” said Sapien, who added that he supports the concept of higher teacher salaries.

Under the “merit pay” pilot program proposed by the governor, a total of $12 million in additional funding would be available for teachers and school principals statewide.

School districts would be able to choose whether to apply for the funding and would have some flexibility in deciding how the money would be doled out, but stipends would have to be based on the evaluation system, which rates teachers on a 1-to-5 scale.

The evaluations, which are based on student test results, classroom observations and other factors, have been sharply criticized by teacher unions and many New Mexico school administrators. Martinez and her education chief, Hanna Skandera, however, have rejected calls to delay the implementation of the system.

Martinez, the state’s first-term Republican governor, said boosting the pay of highly evaluated teachers could improve student achievement.

“Improvement doesn’t happen through luck, or by doing things the way we’ve always been doing them and expecting a different result,” she said.

The Martinez administration previously proposed spending more than $11 million on teacher merit pay, but the Democratic-controlled Legislature scrapped that plan earlier this year while approving $2 million in stipends for educators who take jobs at low-ranked schools.

The plan unveiled Wednesday would differ from the previous proposal in that school districts would have to apply for the funding via a plan submitted to the state’s Public Education Department, Martinez said.

Sapien expressed concern that the latest plan could undermine the state’s funding formula, which allocates money for school districts based on student enrollment and other factors.

Meanwhile, the proposed 10 percent salary hike for new teachers would increase the state’s base salary level for educators from $30,000 to $33,000 per year, the governor said.

The proposed pay increase would apply to both newly hired educators and teachers currently earning less than $33,000 annually, Martinez said. A total of 2,000 teachers, both new and current, could benefit from the proposal, according to the Governor’s Office.

The governor said the salary threshold for Level 1 teachers – the lowest pay rung on a three-tiered licensure system implemented by then-Gov. Bill Richarsdon in 2003 – has not been raised since 2004. The move would cost the state roughly $6.5 million, she added.

“It’s long overdue, and I’m hopeful that it’s one important step we can take to help us recruit and retain our talented teachers,” Martinez said.

During the 2013 legislative session, the governor initially opposed a legislative proposal to give state employees, and teachers, a 1 percent pay hike. However, she relented and approved the salary increases after the Legislature signed off on a compromise tax package she supported.

Martinez said Wednesday that she doesn’t foresee any other suggested pay increases that will be as generous as the new teacher pay hike in her budget proposal, which is expected to be unveiled next month.

“A 10 percent pay increase – no other state employee is going to be receiving that,” the governor said. “That’s a big pay increase.”

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