Rio Rancho’s school board took a strong stand against budget cuts on Monday, unanimously passing a resolution that calls on the public to lobby lawmakers for education funding.
The district held a special community meeting to discuss the dire financial picture and rally against any further reductions. About 250 people attended, filling the main board room and an overflow area.
“If the cuts continue, Rio Rancho Public Schools will not look anything like it does now,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland warned. “We don’t sound the alarm very often.”
The board’s resolution, passed 5-0, specifically asks concerned citizens to “jam the phone lines to Santa Fe” and demand “no more cuts.”
Already, the district has lost $3.8 million from the current fiscal year, with more reductions on the horizon as the state works to cover deficits tied to declining oil and gas revenue.
Under the proposals being considered by the Legislature, RRPS would face an additional reduction of roughly $1 million to $3 million for fiscal year 2018.
Administrators have said they will have to consider every option to cover the cut, including layoffs and district-wide furloughs.
Some programs may also be eliminated – the district has already dropped Tales of Joy, an initiative that brings therapy dogs to schools to read with children.
“As a school board, it is our job to prepare our students for the future, but when our budgets are cut, with little to no regard for what our children need to survive, I have to ask, better yet I have to know, where am I supposed to tell my children to go?” asked board member Ryan Parra.
Parra said his constituents are very worried about the budget – in the last week, he received 50 phone calls and countless emails.
Board member Ramon Montaño noted that Rio Rancho Public Schools is often held up as an example for its strong performance on standardized tests, but the state has not provided adequate money to reward those successes.
RRPS is consistently near the bottom of the state’s 89 districts for per pupil funding. It would receive an additional $10 million if it were funded at the same level as neighboring Albuquerque Public Schools.
“We get the praises but not the funding,” Montaño said.
During the meeting’s public forum, Ed Lovato, a Rio Rancho native with two young children, complimented the board for speaking out about the state’s funding formula.
“Rio Rancho has always had an excellent school district staffed with hard-working, competent, caring administrators, teachers, coaches and staff,” Lovato said. “In my view, Rio Rancho’s public schools are its crown jewels and a major factor for families like mine in deciding where to raise our children.”
Lovato told the board he would push to try to protect the district from further cuts.
Rio Rancho’s teachers union, the National Education Association of New Mexico, held its own rally at the Roundhouse on Monday morning to fight for funding.
Charles Goodmacher, NEA-New Mexico spokesman, told the Journal he is encouraged that so many community members are taking an interest in the issue.
“The call to jam the phone lines in Santa Fe is right on,” he said.
Goodmacher urged callers to ask lawmakers to raise revenue so additional education cuts aren’t necessary.