Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Santa Fe Public Schools is grappling with a budget squeeze next year, despite a 16% increase in spending on education approved by the state Legislature this year.
While there has been an influx of an additional $7.1 million into SFPS’s operational fund, the state has also mandated a 6% pay raise for educators that will cost the school district about $6.7 million. There are also new costs in other areas, like health care costs and insurance.
One program that could receive less support from the school district as a result of the budget crunch is Communities In Schools, a national nonprofit group with an affiliate based in Santa Fe that aims to help at-risk students stay in school and graduate high school.
In recent years, SFPS has budgeted $200,000 for CIS-New Mexico, which provides “wraparound” services to students, such as tutoring, mentoring, college and career counseling, as well critical needs, such as food, clothing and health referrals. But last year, using some of the money that came from the sale of the old Alvord School, the school board upped the contribution to CIS to $450,000.
“Communities In Schools understood it was a one-time commitment; the board understood that it was a one-time commitment,” said school board member Maureen Cashmon, in part answering Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, who last week faulted SFPS officials for “mismanagement” for using nonrecurring funds from the school sale to fund programs.
“But now when we look at our budget, we’re trying to decide where we can best strategically put our money and come up with a balanced budget,” Cashmon said. “Can we fund them again at $450,000, or does it have to be something less than that?”
Cashmon is a big supporter of CIS and would like to see it retain its support from SFPS at the same levels. But, she said, “We’ve got a lot of needs and not a lot of money.”
Cashmon said she sees the value CIS offers, providing much-needed services to at-risk students and taking some of the burden off teachers.
“I think they’ve made a significant impact for us,” she said of CIS. “They’ve been a great partner, and the community supports it. They also bring over a million dollars from the community to the table.”
‘We’ll do our best’
CIS New Mexico operates on a $1.6 million budget. More than $1 million of that is raised through its foundation and corporate and individual donors, but the $450,000 it got from SFPS last year accounted for 28% of its budget, according to Sonja Thorpe Bohannon, director of development for CIS New Mexico. In previous years, the $200,000 it received from SFPS accounted for about 15% of its budget.
While grateful for the support it has received from SFPS, Thorpe Bohannon noted that CIS affiliates elsewhere typically receive between 30% and 50% of their income from local school districts.
CIS used the extra money it got from SFPS to expand into three more schools this school year. It now has site coordinators at 11 schools, up from eight the year before. The organization now has a presence at Aspen Community Magnet School; El Camino Real Academy; Cesar Chavez, Nava, Nina Otero, Ramirez Thomas, Salazar and Sweeney elementary schools; Milagro and Ortiz middle schools; and Capital High School.
Its services impact roughly 6,400 students in Santa Fe Public Schools to some degree, with more than 500 students receiving case management from site coordinators.
So what would happen if SFPS cut back on its monetary support?
“We’ll all do our best to see how things work out and go from there,” Thorpe Bohannon said, adding that CIS is striving to slowly grow its programs throughout the school district. “It’s too early to talk about closing programs.”
SF programs date from 2012
The Communities In Schools program in Santa Fe was started in 2012 as the “Salazar Project” by Bill and Georgia Carson. A year later, it became the 26th affiliate of CIS’s national organization, in existence for more than 40 years.
Andel Trujillo serves as site coordinator for CIS at Salazar today. Her job is to connect students to the various services they may need.
Site coordinators conduct needs assessments, put together plans and integrate student supports both school-wide (all of the 258 students at Salazar are eligible for free or fee-reduced lunch) and individually with about 25 case-managed students. Attendance, academics, behavior and social/emotional learning, basic needs and parent engagement are considered when choosing which students are case-managed.
“It’s really important for us to serve the community uniquely,” she said. “It helps that I’m born and raised in Santa Fe and know a lot of people.”
Through her connections in the community, Trujillo has formed partnerships with many groups – Girls on the Run, Girls Inc., Big Brothers Big Sisters, Earthcare, Gerard’s House, and the Food Depot, to name a few.
Among other things, Trujillo orchestrates food and school supply drives. The classroom she occupies at Salazar serves as a food pantry, with shelves neatly stocked with food products.
“That comes from working in a grocery store for 29 years,” said Mardell Trujillo, Andel’s mother, who comes in from time to time “to see what I can do.”
Mardell and other volunteers help with the food distribution. Last year, CIS distributed about 130,000 pounds of food for students and their families.
One corner of the room contains stacks of boxes filled with meal packets that came from the Food Depot. There’s a refrigerator for perishable food items from which she retrieved a carton of eggs that Andel offered to a student during a reporter’s visit. Several other students dropped in between classes to pick up snacks from a snack bin near the room’s entrance.
“Students have a hard time learning if they are hungry, or tired or are grieving,” she said.
Volunteers help out
A former teacher, Trujillo’s current room has a closet full of school supplies. “So a pencil doesn’t stop a kid from going to class,” she said, adding that many teachers won’t let a student in their classroom if they aren’t properly equipped to learn.
She also collects such items as lip balm and hair ties – anything to help a child get through a school day.
In addition to her mother, other volunteers visit her room to offer assistance in various ways. CIS asks that volunteers dedicate at least one hour a week to help tutor students. Last year, volunteers contributed nearly 3,500 hours to help CIS.
“It’s really important for them to have an adult in their life that is consistent and is there to support them,” Trujillo said. “Bonding and building relationships and having someone to give them that one-on-one attention can make all the difference.”
Trujillo said that students at The Master’s Program charter school, Desert Academy and Santa Fe Prep also come in regularly to help tutor students.
Parent engagement is another big part of what she does.
“Making connections with families and parent engagement is huge,” said Trujillo, who invites parents to her room each Friday for coffee. Sometimes, she arranges for people from such groups as Homewise and Chainbreaker Collective to come in to mingle or talk to parents about the services they offer.
“We’re called Communities In Schools, so I’m all about bringing in people from the community,” she said. “And sometimes we just sit around and talk.”
Trujillo also fosters relationships by working closely with teachers and school counselors and is part of a wellness team that also includes the school principal, a health aid and school secretary that help identify students who may be in need of special attention. She also connects with students by coaching both the boys and girls basketball teams and cheerleading squads, with team pictures taped to the door of the refrigerator.
Development Director Thorpe Bohannon said the Communities in Schools program has proven to be successful. Statistics from last year show that 98% of the students they work with stayed in school and that 89% of them were promoted to the next grade level. Eighty-nine percent of seniors involved in their program graduated last year, compared to SFPS’s graduation rate of 73%.
Those are statistics to be proud of, but Trujillo says the real satisfaction comes when she makes a difference in a child’s life.
She relates a story about one girl who had already missed 46 days of school before Trujillo began working with her and her family.
“This last quarter, she missed just one day,” she said. “Being able to do this and be in the community is pretty rewarding.”