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Thursday, February 27, 2003

Gov. Wants School Reform Bill

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson called on legislators Wednesday to hurry up and send him a school reform package, including pay raises for teachers and other school employees.
    "I ask the Legislature to move forward, move rapidly and send me a bill so I can sign (it) by the middle of this coming week," Richardson said at a Capitol news conference.
    Richardson said he would accept a Senate-approved measure (SB 845) to provide an $84 million increase in public school spending.
    Under the measure, nearly $1.9 billion would be spent on public schools in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. That figure represents a 4.7 percent increase over current spending.
    The Senate bill includes money to provide a 6 percent pay raise to teachers and most instructional staff and a 3 percent raise for other school employees.
    The bill also would provide funds to raise the minimum annual salary of teachers to $30,000. That would enact the first step of a school reform proposal that includes minimum teacher salaries of $30,000, $40,000 and $50,000, depending on experience and qualifications.
    To pay for the spending increases, the bill would require school districts to transfer $16.4 million from their cash reserves and shift $18 million, or 1 percent of districts' total budgets, from administration to classrooms.
    Richardson initially called for a 5 percent budget shift and wanted districts to use nearly $36 million from their reserves. The Democratic governor said Wednesday he backed away from those demands after negotiating with school officials.
    "I was a little rough on the superintendents last time," Richardson said. "I feel that we've reached common ground."
    Richardson also said he supported a constitutional amendment (SJR 6) pending in the Senate that would increase the annual distribution from the land-grant permanent fund to the state's general fund from 4.7 percent to 6 percent, based on a five-year fund average. The proposal is estimated to generate an additional $77.2 million in the next fiscal year for public schools and other government entities.
    Constitutional amendments are subject to legislative and voter approval.