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School chiefs could get raises in new budget

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The hefty $7 billion budget plan that is looking to boost New Mexico spending – primarily for public schools – includes funding for school administrator raises, which could result in thousands of dollars worth of pay hikes for top personnel.

The legislation, which is for the fiscal year that starts in July, sets aside $37.7 million for districts to provide an average 6 percent salary increase for all other employees who are not teachers, principals and assistant principals. That could apply to superintendents and central office staff.

The bill sets aside other moneys for teachers and principals.

Bill Valdes, chief of staff for House Appropriations and Finance, said when the bill was crafted, superintendents and school chiefs were not the focus.

Yet, the way it is written, the central office positions are included in the pay bumps, legislative staff and Senator Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, told the Journal.

“We didn’t specifically discuss superintendents,” Valdes said about crafting that section of the bill.

While he said he was unsure about district superintendents because they are on contract, he said they “could apply.”

He added the bill’s intent is ultimately for all school personnel to see a raise and it’s up to the districts’ Boards of Education to implement that.

If the districts’ superintendents and other central administrators were to get a 6 percent raise, it would mean thousands of dollars in pay bumps.

For the superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools’ Veronica Garcia, who makes $184,500, a 6 percent raise looks like a roughly $11,000 increase. For Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Raquel Reedy, the increase would be closer to $15,000 because her salary is $248,727.

Reedy’s contract was approved in December and it included an $8,000 salary increase, which the district said at the time was to mirror raises other APS employees got that fiscal year.

“The intent is for all school employees to get at least 6 percent, that’s the intent of the House,” Valdes added.

The bill which had originally been approved by the House made it through the Senate on Wednesday with amendments.

Lawmakers have stressed the need to boost teacher salaries, and the bill that passed both chambers includes about $84 million to fund raises for teachers and principals.

The original budget bill passed by the House called for “at least” 6 percent raises for teachers and principals, but the Senate has pitched “an average” of 6 percent raises, instead.

During Wednesday’s debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, questioned why the Senate had changed the budget language on the teacher pay raises, suggesting it could lead to some teachers getting raises that are smaller than 6 percent.

In response, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said a debate over how to best issue such raises has been playing out for years.

“When push comes to shove, superintendents would prefer an average over a set amount,” Smith said.

These raises are separate and prior to any pay tier bumps.

Valdes noted it will be up to local districts to decide how the raises are implemented.

Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein, who will be the first to say that school staff should make more money, said her objection with the raises in the bill is that it uses the same proposed percentages across the board from bus drivers to administration.

She argued positions like education assistants and cafeteria workers should get a bigger raise than department chiefs, and one that’s higher than 6 percent, noting that education assistants, for instance, are among the lowest paid school workers.

“I don’t think anybody who works as a public servant in our school should make less than poverty level wages,” she said.

According to Albuquerque Public Schools data, the average education assistant in that district makes $16,523 a year.

Bernstein said she doesn’t necessarily disagree with higher-ups getting a boost.

“I have a hard time begrudging them a raise just like everybody else this year. Except, I wish that (the Legislature) would stop appropriating exact percentages that are the same for the highest paid and the lowest paid,” she said.

But she also noted, under the Senate’s proposal, districts would have the “flexibility to pay attention to the lowest paid people” as there is some leeway in the bill on how they implement the raises.

Valdes echoed this, saying the way the Senate proposal is drafted could create several scenarios.

“‘On average’ means it’s possible some will get 8 percent and some will get 4 percent or any range of those numbers,” he said.

Bernstein said much is still in flux, and it’s hard to say how districts will handle the raises when the time comes.

This was also the sentiment of local school districts.

SFPS spokesman Jeff Gephart said the district would need to wait until a bill is officially signed by the governor and until the state Public Education Department gives guidance before it can say how the pay increases would play out. Similarly, APS Board of Education President David Peercy said it would be premature for the district to weigh in before things are official.

And Rio Rancho Public Schools is watching the progression of the budget, but said there haven’t been discussions on how the funds would be allotted.

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.

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