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School board budgets for upcoming fiscal year

Alison Penn Photo Chad Cole, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, listens to Interim Superintendent Susan Sanchez as she gives an update on the state funds at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

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The Roswell Independent School District board on Tuesday approved a tentative budget and salary schedule following a presentation that emphasized the importance of student attendance and highlighted RISD’s progress in retaining veteran teachers.

Interim Superintendent Susan Sanchez recommended approval of the tentative budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 and the salary schedule. For informational purposes, Chad Cole, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, shared a 40-slide PowerPoint presentation on the budget during the four-and-a-half hour board meeting, which also included an additional executive session.

“The first obligation of the school board, typically, is to make sure that we don’t bankrupt the system and go on emergency funding,” Cole said. “Because that is not good for anyone. It’s not good. It’s terrible — I could go on for days about that, but I’ll spare you. The first responsibility of the board is to make sure we are fiscally sound because in statute if you read the law, this is not Chad Cole’s budget. This is the Roswell independent schools’ budget, the board members’ budget.”

Secretary Alan Gedde made the motion and Vice President Ruben Sanchez seconded. The measure to approve the budget and salary schedule passed unanimously.


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Budgeting process

Cole said for the budgeting process the district must solicit input from parents, and that he worked with a committee on the task. The first part of the presentation shared information on education budgeting from the state’s side; the presentation later moved on to the local budget.

Cole said he sent an initial budget on April 25 and another budget was due to the Public Education Department (PED) this past Saturday. A PED designee may approve the tentative budget, which the school board voted to authorize, after review for the July 1 fiscal year start date.

Among factors that affect the operational fund’s revenue fluctuations are the state’s funded unit value — and each district’s student enrollment (membership), according to Cole. For the membership, the enrollment and attendance numbers at the 40-, 80-, and 120-day milestones are important for bringing in funds.

“Anything we can do to keep out kiddos in schools is huge,” Cole said. “That’s how we are funded and there is every incentive in the world to keep our students in our schools.

“That becomes very important from year to year. We need to track how we are doing. How are we doing in these areas? How are we doing in our membership? How are we doing with our ancillary staff, training experience — all of those things.”

Cole said the General Appropriation Act of 2017, House Bill 2, increased funding by $4,370,000,000.

Though several grants were received at the meeting, he said all school districts in the state have not received federal flow-through dollars at this time. Susan Sanchez said a conversation with Christopher Ruszkowski, PED secretary of education, indicated the funds would come in this week, and Cole will apply them to the budget when received.

Cole touched on oil and gas tax trickling back into the district. He called Roswell a supporter of the industry and said more of those dollars are flowing to Hobbs and Carlsbad.

“Again, New Mexico is so tied in with the oil and gas market,” Cole said. “And the oil and gas markets are so volatile — whether it is price, whether it is production, whether it is demand — it is so volatile. I think, well — that’s not going to get better soon. The good news is that the revenues are up this year.”

Experienced teachers and salaries

Cole shared that for the first time in 10 years the district is retaining highly educated and experienced teachers, which he called exciting news and critical for Roswell.

Cole said 85-90 percent of the operational fund is for staff salaries and benefits and being above or below could be detrimental to the budget. He shared the salary minimums required by state statute, which are as follows: $36,000 for step one teachers; $44,000 for level two teachers; and $54,000 for the third tier.

Cole said RISD is currently paying $36,500 and $47,153 for level one and two, while he called the higher-level teachers’ pay “somewhat light” at $53,000.

“We are going to have to adjust our salaries to meet that minimum,” he said.


RISD and unions

Ruben Sanchez said between 32 and 36 years of service, within the current salary schedule, an increase is seen in the level three teachers. He asked about the board’s leverage in increasing a small portion each year on level three teacher’s salaries to retain veteran teachers and build morale. Cole responded by suggesting the board should continue to have a working relationship with the unions.

Additionally, he said all the districts in the state are required to apply a 2.5 percent average across the board. Cole said the district is in negotiation with both of their unions, which means salaries are subject to change and will be brought before the board again.

President Mona Kirk commended Cole for working with the Roswell Education Association on the salaries. Susan Sanchez said the district is also working with the Communications Workers of America.

“I commend RISD for working with the team and working with REA to negotiate this,” Kirk said. “This is huge. This is something that’s never been done in the past that I can remember in my 35 years.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.


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