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RISD watching proposed education funding

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With the New Mexico Legislature now in session, local school officials will be watching the progress of several key aspects of the proposed $3.3 billion education budget.

RISD Superintendent Mike Gottlieb (Submitted Photo)

Among those will be insurance costs for both employees and the district, said RISD Superintendent Mike Gottlieb and Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Chad Cole.

The New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority has proposed a 9% increase in health insurance premiums over the next four years, Gottlieb said.

The NMPSIA, a state insurance purchasing pool for public, post-secondary and charter schools, has been able to offset premium increases through a cash balance for about five years, Cole said.

“That’s a benefit to us, all of us in New Mexico who are in their pool. The bad thing about it is, they’ve depleted their cash balance. Now, necessarily, the rates will have to climb with the market,” Cole said.

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Cole said last year was the first year he could remember the Legislature also appropriated funds to NMPSIA to offset insurance increases.

“It will be worth watching, worth noting if there’s another appropriation in this year’s legislation to offset some of those costs. That would be good news to the employees as well as the employers,” he said.

RISD, along with other districts, will also be watching to see if the Legislature holds districts harmless for enrollment figures reported in this academic year.

“That’s going to be critical on making our decisions,” Gottlieb said.

Public schools report their enrollments on the 40th, 80th and 120th days of classes, with an average of those figures being used in the next year’s State Equalization Guarantee formula. The SEG covers about 95% of day-to-day operating costs for public schools. The enrollment numbers also figure into the district’s allocation for transportation funding.

With most schools still in remote learning due to the public health order, attendance records have decreased and, according to a Public Education Department press release, more than 6,000 students who were enrolled in state public schools last spring were still unaccounted for at the end of the fall semester.

If the Legislature directs schools to add additional instructional days to their calendars, that could have a negative effect, Cole said. When it met in special session last summer to adjust the fiscal 2021 budget, the Legislature directed schools to add 10 days to their calendars to help make up for instruction time lost during the spring when schools were ordered closed and shifted to online learning.

“It costs more money. A lot of times that money isn’t factored in properly,” Cole said. “While they’re trying to hold us harmless particularly on things like student transportation, which is outstanding, they also need to understand there are additional costs any time you increase the number of days that you must try and educate.”

“Trying to adjust calendars and schedules, payroll and contracts and union negotiations, there’s always a domino effect,” he said.

The PED has also proposed creating a Family Income Index that would use targeted tax and income data to identify schools that serve large populations of students from low-income families and direct $80 million from the Public Education Reform Fund over the next two years to those schools.

Gottlieb said, however, it’s too soon to know how that proposal will end up to say how it could impact RISD.

Overall, Cole said district officials are positive about the proposed education funding and the support from local legislators.

“All things considered, it could have been much, much worse. You feel like the information that we’re seeing and the recommendations that are coming out from the various groups supports the fact that we’re in a lot better position than we thought we were just six months ago,” Cole said.

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