Las Cruces educator union argues for higher pay - Albuquerque Journal

Las Cruces educator union argues for higher pay

Onate High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in June 2020.

The National Education Association Las Cruces is fighting for better wages for educators, arguing salaries for teachers locally have not increased at the same rate as they have for teachers in other New Mexico districts.

Denise Sheehan, president of NEA-LC, in October announced an impasse on negotiations with Las Cruces Public Schools, the sticking point being compensation. Negotiations began in the spring of 2021.

“With inflation, everything, people are hurting, our teachers are hurting and it’s making them quit the profession,” she said.

The school district declined to comment on the negotiations.

Sheehan and NEA-LC took to district records to find data to support their view of needing better pay. Sheehan said she was shocked by what they found.

Union findings

Over the past five years, the average teacher salary has increased by about 16% statewide, while the average LCPS teacher’s salary has increased by about 10.5%, according to NEA-LC’s findings.

In 2017, the average salary for Las Cruces teachers was $48,784. That year, the average salaries were $44,924 in Albuquerque, $44,828 in Rio Rancho, $47,399 in Gadsden and $46,328 in Santa Fe. Las Cruces was paying more than other large districts.

In 2021, the average Las Cruces teacher was paid $53,896 annually. In Albuquerque, the average was $53,890, Rio Rancho was $52,076, Gadsden was $55,147 and Santa Fe was $54,252. Each district’s average teacher salary increased at a rate greater than it did for Las Cruces teachers.

NEA-LC alleges the school district has the money to pay teachers more but has chosen not to. The union’s data found that LCPS has used less of its allotted budget every year since 2017, carrying over $22 million in the past five years.

“Instead of investing in modest increases to salaries and benefits, the district has chosen to sock away tens of millions of dollars in unrestricted cash carryover for the last five years,” Sheehan stated in a news release. “Other districts increased their cash carryover 75%. Las Cruces has increased its cash carryover by a whopping 208%.

“Those funds should be invested in our school sites, our students, and in the people who serve our students, our educators.”

Sheehan said that educators – teachers, educational assistants, etc. – are not being appreciated for their dedication to the classroom, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said teachers will be getting an $850 stipend – for their work amid the pandemic – by December, but even this, Sheehan said, was long overdue.

The stipend had been negotiated the previous year, and was intended to be paid out by June 2021. LCPS had no comment on the delays.

“If you think about the way we reopened schools, it was kind of abrupt,” Sheehan said, explaining the stipend. “We’re shut down, we’re shut down, and all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Here’s your start date, you’re going back.’ It was kind of chaotic. (The stipend) was supposed to be inclusive of all of that. ‘You stuck it out. Thank you.’ Other districts offered the same thing, and they got it earlier than we did.”

Impacting educators

Although schools are back mostly to in-person, online learning has not gone away.

Amanda Corrales, a third-grade teacher at LCPS, said that she can hardly recall a single day this year when all of her students were in-person at the same time.

This is the new normal under COVID-19 safe practices. If an unvaccinated student comes in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for 10 days from their last exposure.

“It’s a revolving door,” Corrales said. “Not only do we do our typical duty, but we also have to take care of the online component.”

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