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The 1974 New Mexico Public School Finance Act was promoted as “one of the most innovative of the school finance plans currently being used across the country.”
Key to the school finance plan was the intent by the legislature to meet the obligation of the New Mexico Constitution which called for “a uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of and open to all children of school age in the state shall be established and maintained.”
Many years have gone by since 1974. So have the number of funding formula tweaks over time that attempted to provide the adequacy and sufficiency of funding intended by the original legislation. Despite changes and tweaks, our district lacked sufficient funding to fully fund the quality of education that our community values.
To guide the state’s school funding formula, efforts were made to “equalize the educational opportunity for all children in New Mexico” (Garcia 3). Nevertheless, I present the case that current funding for schools is not sufficient to meet the needs of educating students. To better understand this dilemma, I ask that you consider the following.
A small funding increase by the State for this school year was not enough to balance increased costs by utilities or costs resulting from employee health and pension costs. In addition, the number of students qualifying for special education services declined because the district has done better at identifying and providing services to students in need of early intervention. For doing this good work, the state reduced our special education funding by $300,000. In addition, teacher retirements resulted in a reduction of $800,000 in the unit value of Training and Experience.
Then, the state discovered they had made a funding error in our at-risk student factor from the previous year, which resulted in the district repaying $218,000. And just this past week, the district received notification from the Public Education Department this year’s funding would be reduced by an additional $162,718 because actual enrollment was 25 fewer students less than our projection.
To balance the budget, the school board approved the use of two million dollars from the district’s lease/rental funds to balance the budget. In addition, Los Alamos County Council aided the district by funding School Resource Officers and Prevention Specialists.
The district also reduced instructional and central office staff to lower operational costs.
Early indications from the New Mexico Public Education Department suggest costs will go up again for health insurance and pension benefits for staff. Utility costs are expected to rise. Enrollment is predicted to decline. These factors present funding challenges for the upcoming year. To respond to these anticipated shortfalls, district administration will meet with the school board in mid-December to begin discussion for the 2014-15 school year operating budget.
By early planning, the district will be better positioned to deal with funding shortfalls.
Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent