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          Front Page


Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Raises for Teachers Clear House Panel

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson said Monday he wants the Legislature to focus next on public school reforms and insisted that school districts can squeeze savings from their budgets to cover proposed teacher pay raises.
    The governor made his comments as a House committee endorsed a school finance proposal that provides for 6 percent average teacher salary increases starting in December and would require school districts to reallocate 1 percent of their budgets to direct more money to classrooms and teacher salaries.
    The budgetary blueprint endorsed by the House Education Committee provides for a $95 million, or 5.3 percent, increase in state spending on public education in the fiscal year that begins in July.
    Overall, the proposed budget would allocate about $1.9 billion for public schools, the state Department of Education and other education programs. Typically, public schools account for just under half of spending from the state's general budget account.
    Richardson, at a news conference attended by the chairmen of House and Senate education committees, applauded the work of lawmakers on school proposals but said no agreement had been reached on all provisions of a school financing and reform package.
    "While we still have some differences, we are close, I believe reasonably close, to signing landmark legislation that will dramatically improve our educational system here in the state," Richardson said.
    The Education Committee also approved a bill to provide a one-time 1 percent pay bonus to teachers and other school workers this year. The proposal calls for districts to use cash reserves to pay for the bonuses, which will cost about $14 million statewide.
    The Legislature set aside no money in the current state budget for teacher raises, and the proposed one-time bonus is intended to help offset health insurance cost increases that school workers incurred.
    Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, chairman of the House Education Committee, said the proposed financing bill would cover the costs of implementing a school improvement package developed by a study group that included legislators and representatives of business and educational groups.
    A central element of the reform package is a three-level, competency-based licensing system for teachers and a career salary plan that tracks the licensing system ensuring higher minimum salaries for teachers.
    The salary plan, when fully implemented, would establish a $30,000 base salary for entry-level teachers, $40,000 for second-level teachers and $50,000 for top-level or "master" teachers.
    Richardson said he supported the licensing and salary plan proposals.
    He also wants the Legislature to abolish the state Board of Education and establish a secretary of education who answers to the governor.
    Other provisions of the committee's proposal:
   
  • 2 percent average pay raises for other educational workers.
       
  • Require districts to tap into about $9 million of their cash reserves statewide to help pay for next year's operations. The governor initially proposed that schools use $36 million from reserves for budget increases next year. On Monday, Richardson said he had scaled back his proposal and wanted districts to use at least $20 million from reserves.