Are Budget Cuts Coming to SFPS?

Sierra Sweeney, Editor

On March 16, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia, in accordance with the Board of Education, called a “snow day for action.” All schools were released early under the pretense of a snow day so that the community could rally at the Roundhouse to participate in the political process.

The rally drew a crowd of over 1,500 people, including elementary through high school students, school staff and parents. Most protested the budget cuts that state lawmakers have been mulling over.

However, according to the “Santa Fe New Mexican,” after the show of support for public schools on that day, the state’s Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera began to charge SFPS officials, specifically Superintendent Garcia, with using taxpayer dollars and school resources for political action. Skandera’s charges were based on a state statute that disallows the use of taxpayer money for political practices.

The district responded with a letter that pointed out the lobbying and press conferences Skandera herself, as well as Governor Susana Martinez, have conducted during school hours in various classrooms. The letter even went so far as to call Skandera’s actions an example of a “Do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy.

Skandera raised other issues regarding the early closing, but Garcia quickly answered them. According to the “Albuquerque Journal”, some parents were concerned over transportation, and others over the loss of childcare due to their own work schedules and the schools’ early closing.

In response, Dr. Garcia showed that the buses that transported students and teachers from schools to the Roundhouse and back were paid for by the Santa Fe chapter of the National Education Association, not by the district, and that childcare services were offered to parents who could not change their work schedules for the early closing.

The rally itself occurred as a result of budget cut scares that New Mexico lawmakers said, during the 60-day legislative session, could hurt public and higher education.

For most protesters, the “snow day for action” was an opportunity to pressure Governor Martinez to sign off on one of the proposed budget bills that would begin in July, at the start of the fiscal year. But Martinez has consistently promised her constituents that she would veto any legislation that would cause an increase in taxes.

While both houses of the Legislature approved the $6.1 billion budget, Martinez vetoed it on April 8, opposing its call for a $350 million increase in taxes. According to “KRQE News 13” the taxes would have largely targeted tobacco products and gasoline. The budget would have also effected a 1 percent cut in higher education while still increasing public school funding by $13.3 million.

And according the “Santa Fe New Mexican” this was only one of 70 bills that Martinez vetoed in a single day. In fact, Martinez vetoed a total of 141 bills this year, over 51 percent of the total bills proposed. And her recent line-item-veto of the proposed budget has stopped all Legislature and higher education budgets, causing many public education officials, as well as UNM and NMSU officials, to worry about the budget for the approaching fiscal year.

As a result of said budget instability, New Mexico began a state hiring freeze, is considering firing education staff, shortening school years, and closing two Santa Fe elementary schools, EJ Martinez and Nava, according to “U.S. News.”

“Continued cuts and decreases in educational funding are still below 2008 recession levels when adjusted for inflation.  We ask the Legislature and Governor to compromise during the upcoming special session in order to fully fund education.” said Superintendent Veronica Garcia. “Our goal is to ensure that we provide a sound educational program so that all of our students have the opportunity to be successful in whatever they choose to do be it college and or career.” said Superintendent Veronica Garcia.

Martinez has proposed a special legislative session to create a budget that would not increase taxes, though the date for the session is not yet scheduled.

“In the coming weeks, I will call the Legislature back to Santa Fe to finish the job they were supposed to do in the first place,” Martinez said, also according to the “New Mexican.” “I believe that by working together, we can balance the budget – without tax increases. While I’m disappointed in [lawmakers], I am optimistic that we can come together.”

So, as a community that has experienced state hiring freezes and layoffs, in a state that is consistently ranked as one of the worst in education, we can only wonder how New Mexico education will be affected by next year’s budget once it is eventually passed.