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County school officials report strong budgets

Hagerman Municipal Schools Superintendent Ricky Williams (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

[Note: This post has been updated to correct what type of learning programs will be funded in fiscal 2022 year by the federal coronavirus relief funds.]

Superintendents and administrators of the three smaller public school districts in Chaves County say that their schools are in good financial shape for the upcoming academic year.

The boards of Dexter Consolidated Schools District, Hagerman Municipal Schools and Lake Arthur Municipal Schools recently voted to approve their 2021-22 fiscal year budgets.

The budgets will now be forwarded to the New Mexico Public Education Department, which typically makes some changes before approving them for use starting in July, according to district officials.

A state allotment this year of $4,770.70 per student — with some differentials in funding depending on how many students are enrolled in special education programs or other factors — is the major source of operational funding for New Mexico public school districts.

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The Dexter Consolidated Schools board has approved an operating budget of $11.18 million, with $8.76 million in revenues coming from the per-student allotment, known as the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG.

According to information presented by Business Manager Jeannie Harris, the district is using a conservative enrollment projection of about 811. That was the 2021 head count, which was down from 889 students in 2020.

Many districts in the state have experienced lower enrollments, not only because of changing state demographics but also because some families have moved from the state or opted for online schools or homeschooling due to COVID-19.

The district also receives additional revenues that will total about $5.9 million. They include mill levy taxes on property and general obligation bonds, both approved by voters.

It also has received $1 million in federal coronavirus relief funding, with some carried over to the upcoming year. Harris said the 2021 federal relief funds were used to help pay for internet for students and for special air filters required for school buildings. For the 2022 year, the district intends to use the money to pay for afterschool and optional summer school programs.

Total expenditures are projected at $15.23 million, with 91% of those related to employee compensation and professional services contracts.

Dexter will give their teachers the 1.5% raises required by the state and is planning to hire an additional special education teacher.

“We could do a larger salary increase,” Harris said, “but then we would have to maintain that in following years.”

The district is also raising its minimum wage from $11.50 to $12.50 for the 2021-22 fiscal year, Harris said.

Lesa Dodd, Dexter superintendent (Daily Record File Photo)

Harris and Superintendent Lesa Dodd said they have decided against the K-5 Plus summer program for the 2021-22 academic year, which basically adds 25 instructional days to the academic calendar for elementary students. Harris said that not enough students and their families wanted to participate to make the program worth it for the district.

While that means that the district will not receive $462,000 in state funding for the coming year, it also means the district will not be spending the money on teachers and staff.

The Hagerman Municipal School board has approved a budget with operating revenues of about $6 million, with an overall budget of about $10 million, according to Superintendent Ricky Williams.

He said that he appreciated that the Legislature made some “hold harmless” funding allowances for districts experiencing lower enrollments in the wake of the COVID-19 situation.

He said that Hagerman enrollment is usually around 435. But it has dropped to about 400, which is what the district is using as a projection for the 2021-22 academic year. Williams said he hopes it will increase to 420 by the fall.

He said that the budget allocations are designed to support the district’s strategic goals.

“This particular budget will allow us to chart some pathways so that we can meet some expectations and some goals having to do with student improvement,” he said.

He said one example of an identified priority is implementing the K-5 summer program. It will begin this July and then resume in June 2022. He estimated that about 70 to 75 students will participate.

He also said the district will introduce the extended learning time program for the coming academic year, adding five days to the start of the school calendar and five days to the end in May, creating a total of 190 instructional days.

“We did an informal kind of survey in terms of kids’ working knowledge, and we found out that they were struggling in that area,” he said. “We know where we need to start to help them improve their working knowledge so that they can transition that to long-term memory and apply them to the different courses that they are challenged with.”

District projects for the coming year center around enhanced security. The district plans to add entrance vestibules, keyless entry locks, additional security cameras and fencing.

Superintendent Elisa Begueria of Lake Arthur Municipal Schools (Daily Record File Photo)

Lake Arthur Municipal Schools is looking at a budget with about $2.32 million in operational revenues, according to Superintendent Elisa Begueria, who said the board approved the preliminary budget last week.

She and District Business Manager Dee Dee Dalton said that enrollment increased 10% during the past academic year. The district had about 103 students in 2019-20, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Dalton and Principal Kathleen Galloway said that the district, being a small one, benefited from the state’s budget decisions and that the result is a strong budget for the coming year.

The school intends to use its funds to improve instructional outcomes, both by running its extended learning time program for a second year and by paying for 80 hours of professional development for teachers, Begueria said.

The district does not have plans to add the K-5 Plus program for the current or upcoming academic year, she said.

“Since our elementary students have been with us since Aug. 4, and with the extended learning time, we think we are in a good situation,” Begueria said. “Our student achievement scores are solid.”

Galloway explained further that Lake Arthur elementary students have been attending school four days a week, while middle and high school students have received face-to-face instruction from their teachers throughout the academic year, even when remote learning via computers was required. Each family received a laptop for the year to ensure they could continue their studies throughout the year, she said.

Begueria said the district is allocating funds for career technical education, which prepares students for employment or college after graduation, and for dual education, in which students take advanced courses to earn both high school and college credits. In addition, the school is again working with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell and its GEAR UP program. That program starts its work with seventh and eighth graders, continuing with them until graduation, to prepare them for college.

The district also intends to give 1.5% raises to all employees and will ensure that lower-paid employees receive wage increases.

“We went ahead with our cafeteria, our aides, our custodians — everyone that wasn’t at the $15 an hour minimum wage coming up — we went ahead and moved them to that $15 an hour,” Dalton said.

Lake Arthur officials also said that their school received about $152,000 in coronavirus relief funding that was used during the current academic year primarily for air filters in school buildings, cleaning supplies and other health safety materials. In April, the New Mexico Legislature and governor approved $375,000 in capital outlay funding for the district to become available during the 2021-22 academic year. That will be used to install campus security features and for other campus improvement projects.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.