In New Mexico, Experienced Teachers May Get Minor Salary Raises

According to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, New Mexico’s unprecedented advances in educator compensation will bring the average statewide teacher salary to $64,006, putting it at the top of the United States’ Southwestern states.

In this year’s normal legislative session, the governor and lawmakers placed a high focus on two crucial measures: one that boosts the yearly base salary in each of the state’s three teacher licensure categories by $10,000, and another that asks for 7% average raises for education professionals. A third proposal mandates that all employees in public schools be paid at least $15 per hour.

Principals with higher salaries are also in line for hikes, with raises of up to 20% possible.

However, as the budget deadline approaches, several administrators and educators at Santa Fe Public Schools are concerned that the district will not have enough finances to provide equitable raises to all instructors, regardless of their years of experience. While the state has provided funds to increase payroll, the decision comes as the local district faces increased operating costs and the possibility of losing a couple of million dollars in state per-student funding due to the loss of hundreds of children from its classrooms.

In order to make competitive pay a reality, Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said the district would have to take a hard look at its finances in the face of dwindling enrolment.

“The key word is ‘average,’ ” Chavez said of the upcoming raises. “We spotted this early on that not all raises will be uniform.”

He added: “It really does appear that those individuals with more experience could possibly receive a smaller percentage raise because they’re already at the top of the pay table. That’s where you start to really see the wide range of potential raises.”

Another probable consequence of lower income as expenses grow is the termination of district contracts or the creation of empty posts. According to Chavez, the district currently has more than 100 employment openings, including 60 teaching positions.

The New Mexico Public Education Department’s publication of specifics on enrollment-based school financing, which will primarily decide their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, is awaited by public districts and charter schools across the state.

The so-called unit value — which is used to determine how much a district would receive for each student — is due in early April, giving officials little time to develop budgets before the May 1 deadline.

“Until the unit value is released to us, we don’t have an exact number of what our funding would look like for next school year,” Chavez said. “But we do have some inclination … our beginning funding would be smaller than it is this year.”

The district’s enrollment has dropped dramatically since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

In the autumn of 2018, Santa Fe Public Schools had 11,176 pupils in its classes, down from 12,033 the previous school year and more than 12,500 in the fall of 2019. According to the district, this year’s numbers have risen to 11,269 people.

The state calculates how much cash a district will get for the following school year by averaging its 80-day and 120-counts. The 120-day number for Santa Fe Public Schools has yet to be revealed.

Robert Martinez, the state’s chief financial officer, anticipates that the state’s unit value, which was $4,863 this school year, would be higher in 2022-23, alleviating some of the pain. Based on their grade level, whether they get special education assistance, and other considerations, students are assigned a number of units.

Martinez said there is still too much uncertainty about teacher compensation schedules even as the district tries to develop revenue estimates and draw out a budget. Paychecks will be affected by the success of April discussions with the local teachers union, as well as instructors’ participation in programs that prolong the school year, he added.

According to Chavez, the district is currently debating whether to join in K-5 Plus in 2022-23, a summer program for children in kindergarten through fifth grade that aims to improve learning and close achievement disparities, particularly among students from low-income families.

The district has spent about $23 million on teacher pay this school year, according to the Public Education Department.

Pay raises for school staff will begin as early as April, according to the agency. On the last quarter of staff contracts, districts and charter schools will impose a 3% salary rise.

At the start of the following school year, another rise will be implemented, along with a 4% average raise, to bring all workers up to the mandated $15 minimum wage and teachers and principals up to their new minimum compensation levels, as determined by the three-tier licensing system. Teachers’ starting salaries are scheduled to be $50,000, $60,000, or $70,000, depending on their licensing level.

Santa Fe Public Schools teachers currently earn somewhat more than the state’s existing minimum compensation.

Teachers in the first tier make $43,253, while those in the second tier earn at least $54,086 and those in the third tier earn at least $64,933. Martinez explained that calculating the current average teacher compensation is challenging due to the district’s pay tables having so many increments beyond the basic wage.

According to him, the average wage will slightly exceed the state’s predicted average, hitting about $65,000 or $70,000 under the new hikes.

“As we move into the next fiscal year, that means every teacher is going to move up on the salary schedule,” he said.

Principals are in the same boat.

Principals’ starting salaries in the district are $75,600 in elementary school, $88,200 in middle school, and $97,440 in high school this year, but they will need to increase to $84,000, $98,000, and $112,000 next year.

The district’s schools have approximately 30 principals, the majority of whom oversee primary schools. According to Martinez, certain administrators, teachers, and assistant principals may receive raises of up to 20% to fulfill the new minimum criteria.

Chavez anticipates that the hikes will aid in the recruitment and retention of teachers and other educational personnel, particularly those on the lower end of the compensation scale and with less experience, who will likely get greater rises.

However, he and Grace Mayer, president of the National Education Association of Santa Fe, believe that the district’s teaching staff is older and more experienced, and that lesser pay hikes for those in the higher levels might lead to retirements.

Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law that permits teachers to return to work three months after retiring, with the goal of keeping classrooms full. Teachers who are retiring at the end of the school year, on the other hand, will not be able to return until October.

“The kids are going to be back for August and September, for two whole months,” Mayer said. “If people decide to retire — which I know they are — and come back, that’s great for us but not so great for our kids.”

Mayer said when the bargaining process begins in April, she expects the union to advocate for more increases for higher-level teachers.

“It’s the folks that are 20 years or more that aren’t going to see much,” she said.

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