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Area superintendents address budget changes

From left, state Sen. Cliff Pirtle and state Rep. Phelps Anderson – both Republicans from Roswell – speak at the April meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women. Anderson attended a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee this week in Cloudcroft. (Alex Ross File Photo)

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State Rep. Anderson says districts are working to ensure fairness in all levels

Superintendents from several New Mexico school districts addressed budget issues following funding changes from this year’s legislative session at a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) this week in Cloudcroft.

State Rep. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, whose district includes portions of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties, and is a member of the bipartisan committee, said RISD Superintendent Ann Lynn McIlroy, along with her counterparts from public school districts in Alamogordo, Artesia, Cloudcroft, Deming and Gallup-McKinley spoke to the committee Thursday.

“A common theme was superintendent and school board — local school board — working to make their new budget balanced,” Anderson said Friday in an interview after the meeting had adjourned.

In the last legislative session, public education funding was raised substantially — including increases in salaries for public school employees, however, McIlroy said how that funding is being implemented is different than how funds are being arranged at the state level.

Included in RISD’s expenses are salary increases for school district employees, which costs the district $8.9 million more than expected.

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Anderson later said districts are working to make sure that changes are fair for higher level and more experienced employees, and to avoid compensation compression, where mandated changes in salaries could lead to some employees making just as much, if not more than their more experienced peers.

McIlroy also talked about K-5 Plus, which is a program for students from kindergarten through fifth grade to have 25 more instructional days giving disadvantaged students more opportunities in their education. McIlroy said representatives from Artesia and Alamogordo raised concerns with the funding of K-5 Plus in their districts.

Now it is being enforced that students must have those 25 additional days over the summer with the teacher they will have the following year. This is called a cohort and with the enforcement, McIlroy said “1,000 fewer students” are being served at RISD this year.

She said the district is paying nearly $100,000 for 12 classrooms that are not cohort classrooms. This risk was taken because a couple of elementary schools would not have had K-5 Plus programs.

“The LFC stands behind the fact that, well, this is best practice,” McIlroy said of the cohorted classes for K-5 Plus students. “I get that, but it is worse practice not to serve kids at all in any capacity. And so, my challenge to them was, I get best practice and yes, we would love to be able to do that, but I know for Roswell that would have cost us nearly $500,000 out of our operational dollars to hire 50 more teachers to teach 1,000 more kids and not be reimbursed by the state. …”

Other topics discussed included scores of school districts across southern New Mexico and Anderson said that McIlroy’s reports showed that the schools in RISD stand tall among their peers in other districts.

The quality of RISD’s physical plants is one place where Anderson said the district got very high marks. Though more work needs to be done, recent passage of bond issues by local voters and the generous match offered by the state have allowed the district to move forward.

Oil, gas and revenue

Increased oil and gas production in the Permian Basin — which consists of portions of southeastern New Mexico and southwestern Texas — was discussed Wednesday. Anderson said Allen Gilmer, executive chairman of DrillingInfo — a comprehensive database containing information — was among the presenters.

He said data shows that increased oil and gas production is forecasted to continue through 2030 and then it will experience a natural decline, as new technologies such as hydraulic fracking allow energy to be extracted much faster.

“And once you get your production level up to a certain height, the higher and higher it goes, the more wells you’ve got to bring on to arrest the curve from turning down,” Anderson said.

The surge in nonrecurring state revenue for the coming fiscal year has largely been attributed to rising oil and gas production in southeast New Mexico, and Anderson said that because of that jump in production, New Mexico will see another surplus.

Exact figures of how much additional revenue will be a subject at the committee’s August meeting.

At this month’s meeting though, the subject of using a large chunk of that additional projected revenue for highway reconstruction was discussed, Anderson said.

The deteriorating condition of the highways in southeastern New Mexico is due to the weight of vehicles but also a jump in traffic volume.

“And in my opinion, the most challenging highway construction needs are here in southeast New Mexico,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com. City/RISD reporter Alison Penn also contributed to this report. She can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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