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          Front Page


Saturday, February 15, 2003

Panel Passes Teacher Licensing, Pay Hike

By David Miles
Journal Capital Bureau
    SANTA FE The House Education Committee on Friday unanimously endorsed a sweeping school reform bill that includes a three-level teacher licensing system with minimum salaries and a 6 percent pay raise for public school teachers.
    The bill (HB 212) goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
    "This is a proud day," said Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the bill.
    In 2001, Stewart sponsored a similar school reform bill that was vetoed by then-Gov. Gary Johnson, who balked at the plan's price tag, then estimated to be about $300 million.
    But, on Friday, Stewart said phasing in the three-tiered licensing system and other reforms over five years, as called for in the current bill, is estimated to cost about $120 million.
    The system would establish minimum annual teacher salaries of $30,000, $40,000 and $50,000, depending on experience and qualifications. The bill includes $6 million to fund the first year of the system, which would raise the minimum salary of all teachers to $30,000.
    Rep. Rick Miera, an Albuquerque Democrat and committee chairman, added $37.9 million to the bill to help offset the cost of a 6 percent pay raise for teachers and most instructional support staff in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Miera's amendment would also allocate $8.5 million for a 2 percent raise for other school employees.
    Miera said he has been negotiating with Gov. Bill Richardson's staff over paying for the proposed raises. The Democratic governor initially proposed shifting 5 percent of school districts' budgets from administration to classrooms, which would cover the cost of a 6 percent pay raise for teachers and other expenses.
    Richardson also proposed using nearly $36 million of districts' cash reserves to provide pay raises to other school employees and other expenses.
    Miera's amendment would require districts to shift 1 percent of their operating budgets into instruction and transfer $9 million of their cash reserves to district's budgets for the next fiscal year.
    Virginia Trujillo, Richardson's education adviser, said the governor and legislators are close to reaching an agreement about school funding. But she also said Richardson hopes to find additional funds for classroom spending and did not rule out seeking more money from districts' cash reserves than Miera proposed.
    "We're looking in every little corner," Trujillo said.
    Stan Rounds of the New Mexico School Superintendents Association said superintendents support Miera's amendment but said it would still be difficult for districts to enact the belt-tightening measures.
    "This was not an easy pill for many to swallow," Rounds said.