BELEN—One local board of education has approved a school calendar that will have students in the classroom for 186 days next school year, while the second is still mulling over how to add days to its year.

The Belen Board of Education unanimously approved a 186-day instructional day calendar at its meeting Tuesday evening. Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez explained why it wasn’t actually 190 days, one of the options offered to parents in a recent survey.

“I’ll admit the mistake. I got it drilled into my head that it had to be 190 days,” Sanchez said. “With all (Extended Learning Time Programs) the requirement is for 10 additional instructional days to the districts’ existing instructional calendar, or 190 days total, whichever is less.”

Since the Belen Consolidated Schools instructional calendar for the current school year is 176 days, the district could simply add 10 days. Sanchez said if, hypothetically, the district had 182 days in its current calendar, 10 more would have pushed it to more than 190 days and it would have been obligated to make a 190-day calendar.

“I misinterpreted the memo from PED,” Sanchez said.

The calendar approved by the board has classes for kindergarten through 12th grade starting on Aug. 4, 2021, and ending on May 27, 2022. Sanchez said all federal holidays are included in the calendar.

At the Tuesday, April 27 meeting, Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero updated the board of education on the district’s calendar development process.

After he revealed plans to take the district to a 205 day calendar earlier this month, parents pushed back, leading the board to hold off on making a decision until next month.

Romero presented draft calendar options to the board Tuesday evening — 180- and 190-day options — and will make final recommendations at a meeting in May.

In response to parents’ concerns about the development of the calendar, the superintendent said he plans to form a calendar committee which will include people from all across the community.

Additional classroom time in the 2021-22 school year calendar for all districts in the state isn’t a mandate, but it also isn’t a choice.

Districts first began hearing about the state’s desire to address “learning loss” experienced by students in the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic when Albuquerque Sen. Mimi Stewart, a former teacher, introduced Senate Bill 40.

The bill, which the governor signed on April 9, lays out two recommended programs for districts to add time to their calendars — K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time Programs — both of which are funded by the state for two years.

“The recommendation was to choose one of the programs or both,” said Sanchez. “However, if we chose not to participate in either program, then we’d have to write our own plan on how to address academic loss, which would have to be approved by PED.”

After talking to the district’s administrative team, Sanchez said as a leader, he decided creating a plan wasn’t the best direction to take.

“By taking that road, we weren’t sure when or if we would get approval. Also, the district’s budget is due by April 30 and it has to include a calendar,” he said.

“We are trying to give as much notice and stability as we can to our teachers and staff. If we made our own plan and it wasn’t approved, then we would need to look at creating a new one or at one of the other two.

“This has been a hard year for everyone; our teachers are tired of the constant ‘about face.’

“We wanted to be able to say ‘we are doing 190 or 205 days, this is when we start and this is when you need to start preparing.’”

The initial direction from PED in late March limited districts’ choices to K-5 Plus, a 205 day calendar, or ELTP, which added 10 days, but by April 15, the department announced a third option, the K-5 Plus 140 Pilot, which allows districts to also add 45 minutes of instructional time a day — time that will be paid for by the state.

Sanchez said while the district has applied to the 140 Pilot program for all its elementary schools, he doesn’t know how many will be a part of the competitive initiative.

The school year will remain at 186 days regardless of whether the district receives the funding to add 45 minutes per day, Sanchez said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Sanchez said he doesn’t know when PED will let the district know about the 140 Pilot funding.

During a virtual workshop on April 21, some BCS community members opined the district was adding days simply to make a profit and pad teachers’ paychecks.

Sanchez said the purpose of adding days is to help students make up any achievement gaps they might have experienced.

“We are asking people to work more so we have to pay them more. Anyone who works knows that.

“I’ve also gotten questions about how much of this money are district administrators getting. They aren’t getting any raises out of the funding,” Sanchez said. “It’s going for classroom expenses and increased employee hours.”

The superintendent added that the funding from the state only covers employees paid for by the district’s operational budget. Those who are paid partially or fully by federal funding such as Title I, IDEA B or Medicaid will have to be compensated for their extra time by the district.

“That could be some of our bus drivers, nurses, social workers, other ancillary staff,” he said. “We are going to have to find that money in operational because they also deserve more pay but aren’t included in the funding.”

The superintendent said he has faith in the teachers and administrators to keep learning recovery as the district’s priority.

“Over the next two years, we will develop systems and practices to address that. In two years time what we are doing will be outstanding. This is a time where we are really reflecting on our current practices,” Sanchez said. “I’m not saying anyone is doing a bad job but we need to get better and the data shows us that. The focus for the next two years is ‘what can Belen do to get better?’”

All of the Belen board members supported a longer school year, with Vice President Aubrey Tucker and member Jim Danner saying they’d like to see 205 days of instruction.

“Honestly, I’m struggling with our community,” said Danner, a former Belen High School football coach and principal. “We need to put as much emphasis on math and science and drama as we do on football. Education needs to become a priority, not vacations.

“I appreciate all your emails but I don’t happen to agree. We have to make something happen.”

Tucker said there are times when people have to make sacrifices.

“Belen students are not competing against Los Lunas. They’re not competing against Santa Fe or Texas. They are competing against the kids in Europe, every child in Japan, against every child on Earth,” said Tucker, a former band teacher and principal.

“This is not the world we grew up in. It is extremely competitive. For myself, and others, the more (time) the better.”

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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.