New Mexico Schools Brace for Cuts

Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm is "cautiously optimistic" her district can cut its budget by one percent in the coming weeks. If New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signs the package of proposals that came out of his Legislature's special session last weekend, Clovis and every other school district in the Land of Enchantment will have to.

That one percent slash is one strategy lawmakers are going to in efforts to fill a $650 state budget deficit. But Seidenwurm told me that spending reduction is only half the battle.

"We are much more concerned about the fact that the Legislature has replaced about $3.6 million of our money with stimulus money, and that was done last year," Seidenwurm said. "And so while we can weather this one percent cut -- it TMs gonna be about $600,000 for us, and we TMll figure out a way to get through that -- our bigger concern is what happens when the stimulus money goes away at the end of next year, because right now we TMre living on borrowed money in New Mexico in education. The amount of money that we had last year has effectively been cut about $200 million, and no one is really aware of that, I mean, they haven TMt felt it because it TMs been replaced with stimulus money. That TMs our bigger concern."

The Clovis school leader said schools could have fared much worse than just a one percent reduction. And she said everyone in the district has been ordered to find things to cut wisely. "We are putting together a package of suggestions for our board that they TMll probably act on in a week (November 3). Those include basically just trying to tighten up some positions and making sure our class sizes are where they need to be. We have frozen some positions in the central office, and probably will keep those frozen to try to reap some vacancy savings from those. All of the schools have been asked for ways to cut their budget. Then our central office, our maintenance and operations, has been asked to basically double the cuts that the local schools are looking for. So yes, we will figure it out. It TMs not going to be pleasant, but we can get through this year. We TMll see about the next two years."

Some critics of what the Legislature did in their special session believe they set themselves up for a very tough January. That's when their regular session begins, and they'll have to go through perhaps an even tougher round of budget cuts. Seidenwurm said it's very hard to say what's in store.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Seidenwurm told me. "I TMm not sure how we can talk about funding, what we need, without talking about some kind of tax increase. We don TMt pay taxes in New Mexico compared to most states, and that TMs been a nice position to be in, but with gas and oil revenues declining every day, we may not be in that position much longer. But that won TMt be my decision. I TMm not an elected official, but I think that will definitely be a big part of the conversation in January."

(An article written by Clarence Plank of Freedom New Mexico and the Clovis News Journal was also used for this report.)