SANTA FE — Sen. John Arthur Smith had some sharp words Wednesday for Santa Fe Public Schools administrators and board members during a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee at the Roundhouse.
Smith, D-Deming, referenced recent comments by some Santa Fe school board members published by the Journal North that criticized lawmakers for not allocating more money for public schools — despite a $447 million increase for education statewide, a 16 percent boost.
The increase was aimed at bringing the state into compliance with a landmark court ruling that found New Mexico is failing to provide a sufficient education to all students. Lawmakers approved the increase amid a giant revenue boost for state government from an oil and gas boom.
Specifically, the influential lawmaker took Santa Fe school officials to task for using money from a real estate sale to pay for operating expenses during the current school year.
“The management team in Santa Fe used nonrecurring revenue as part of their recurring budget,” said Smith, chairman of the LFC.
“That’s total and complete mismanagement as far as I’m concerned,” he added.
Santa Fe Public Schools last year spent some one-time money it received from the sale of the old Alvord School to help pay for some programs.
At a school board meeting last month, board members Steven Carrillo and Maureen Cashmon criticized the Legislature for not doing more to support education.
Cashmon said the “unit value” used to determine how much money school districts get from the state for each student isn’t large enough to cover both mandated 6 percent pay raises for educators and improving school programs.
“It needed to cover getting our kids up out of 49th in the country and give our staff something decent to live on,” said Cashmon, who described the increase in education funding as merely a “baby step.”
Carrillo has criticized the Legislature for celebrating the increase in educating spending as if “they had recreated the wheel.”
“You did not do your job,” Carrillo said of the Legislature, adding that it could have come up with more money by eliminating tax cuts implemented in past years.
During that board meeting, Board President Kate Noble said she didn’t think it helped “to rail against” legislators, who she described as good people trying to get money to the schools amid other demands.
Told of the senator’s comments on Wednesday, Carrillo said, “I would say he’s very misinformed about how we allocated those funds,” referring to the money from the Alvord School sale. “They were used primary for pilot programs used for teacher innovation and student support,” Carrillo said.
Cashmon did not return a phone message Wednesday.