BELENBy linking extrinsic rewards — cold hard cash — to a set of merit pay benchmarks for the Belen Consolidated School superintendent, one local board of education is hoping to see improved academic achievement. 

At its Aug. 22 meeting, the Belen Board of Education unanimously approved a merit pay rubric that will pay BCS Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez for increased student proficiency in math and English language arts, as well as for district-wide reduction in chronic absenteeism and an increase in the district’s graduation rate. 

Lawrence Sanchez
Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendent

“None of these can be measured by us,” said Belen Board of Education member Jim Danner, who created the rubric. “(The measurements) are set by the (New Mexico Public Education Department) and (the New Mexico Measures of Student Success and Achievement assessment). We are saying, ‘We expect this superintendent to take care of this.” 

NM-MSSA is New Mexico’s statewide summative assessment for mathematics and English language arts, administered at the end of grades three through eight. 

Board president Aubrey Tucker said a merit pay scheme has to be measurable and have data behind it. 

“There is actually a rubric to follow. If he doesn’t follow it, there is no benefit,” Tucker said. “This also puts the Belen district into the realm of having a ‘CEO.’ In the real world, you make sure if you’re doing well there is benefit for everyone — students, administration, staff, teachers. This is a good way to get started.” 

Danner said it was his hope that offering incentive pay to the superintendent was just the start, noting that athletic coaches who won district or state championships received money. 

“I hope he uses this throughout the district to set up monetary goals for administration,” he said. “I am a firm believer in merit pay.” 

A merit pay system wasn’t something he asked for, the superintendent said. 

“I am of the same mind set,” Sanchez said. “I would like to see this spread down to other employees. Let me be the guinea pig.” 

The board unanimously approved a new one-year contract for Belen Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez in June, with members saying he was taking the district in the right direction. The new contract comes with a 6 percent pay increase, as mandated by the New Mexico Legislature, bumping Sanchez’ annual salary up to $153,700 from $145,000. 

At the June 27 meeting, Danner made the motion to offer Sanchez a one-year contract with an increase in pay. Board member Larry Garley seconded the motion. 

“I am not one who believes in having extended contracts for superintendents; it’s a philosophical direction,” Danner said. “(Sanchez’) data analysis is right on and drives us in the right direction. He has my total support.” 

Board member Larry Lindberg noted in the 11 years he’s been on the Belen Board of Education, there have been seven superintendents, both interim and full-time. 

“We need continuity. We’ve had too much change,” Lindberg said. “He’s working with Ms. (Renee) Sanchez to work on programs and turn things around. That takes a few years, takes time. He’s done a good job.” 

Board member Max Cordova and board president Aubrey Tucker both said continuity and consistency was important in district leadership. 

“Dr. (Sue) Cleveland is a prime example of what continuity can do for a district,” said Tucker, referring to the Rio Rancho Public School District superintendent, who has held that position since the district’s creation in 1994. 

“Continuity and growth is due primarily due to consistency, not only with Dr. Cleveland but with the administrative core that has developed in the last 15, 20 years. I would like to see that here in Belen.” 

Superintendent Sanchez thanked the board members for their kind words, saying if the board was a different composition of members, he wouldn’t be comfortable with a one-year contract. 

“With the support and working relationship I have with you, I have no concern what so ever,” Sanchez said. “I know you will grade me fairly and hold me accountable. You, as a board, are a big part of the success we’ve had. I can’t do this without you.” 

Superintendent merit pay  benchmarks for the 2023-24 school year

  • $500 for each school that achieves the New Mexico Spotlight School designation — above the 75th percentile — as measured by New Mexico Vistas 
  • $300 for each grade level district-wide which shows 50 percent of students meet or exceed proficiency in mathematics as measured by the New Mexico Measures of Student Success and Achievement assessment 
  • $300 for each grade level district-wide which shows 50 percent of students meet or exceed proficiency in reading as measured by the NM-MSSA assessment
  • $300 for each grade level district-wide which shows 50 percent of students meet or exceed proficiency in English language usage as measured by the NM-MSSA 
  • $1,000 for reducing the chronic absence rate in the district by 15 percent as measured by the New Mexico Public Education Department’s Student Teacher Accountability Reporting System 
  • $1,000 for increasing the four-year cohort graduation rate to 80 percent as measured the NMPED’s STARS
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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.