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RRPS superintendent: ‘If we tell you it’s really hard, it really is’

SANTA FE – Rio Rancho Public Schools is one of the most successful districts in the state, but Superintendent Sue Cleveland testified Tuesday that she believes poor funding is forcing her administration to “dismantle” its hard work by dropping programs, increasing class sizes and instituting other cost-cutting measures.

Cleveland was a witness in a landmark lawsuit that claims New Mexico is not meeting a mandate to adequately fund education outlined in the state constitution.

Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland

RRPS is a plaintiff in the case – a combination of two similar lawsuits filed in 1st Judicial District Court by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Judge Sarah Singleton will rule after the nine-week trial, which is in its fifth week.

The plaintiffs claim the case is really about opportunity, not just money, because the lack of sufficient funding particularly impacts minorities and special education students.

On the stand, Cleveland repeatedly stressed that RRPS is struggling to pay for interventions to support those groups.

“It’s getting very difficult to make ends meet,” she said.

The district recently cut 41 positions and can’t afford to meet the demand for programs like after-school credit recovery or half-day preschool. A successful truancy intervention program is struggling to stay afloat and the K-3 Plus summer program was reduced by about 100 slots.

Bus transportation continues to run a deficit, which the district covers with money “straight out of the classroom,” Cleveland said.

Textbooks and other instructional materials are also in short supply, she said.

At the same time, teacher recruitment and retention are more difficult than ever, said Cleveland, who noted that fewer college students are majoring in education and veteran teachers are often retiring early. Those who are still in the field can earn better pay in surrounding states.

Special education, math and bilingual-certified teachers are particularly hard to come by.

The state’s attorney, Jeffrey Wechsler, countered that RRPS is among the top districts in the state, highlighting the graduation rate, strong Advanced Placement enrollment and graduates going on to Ivy League universities.

Wechsler asked the superintendent if RRPS earned its achievements by refusing to make excuses for poor performance.

Cleveland agreed, but said administrators feel like they have gotten to the point where they are “dismantling the district.”

While state funding has gone up somewhat, Cleveland said fixed costs also have increased and the boost is not enough.

Cleveland said she believes the district’s strong academic performance and good fiscal management should give weight to her arguments.

“I hope there is some credibility that if we tell you it’s really hard, it really is,” she said.