LOS LUNAS — School of Dreams Academy implemented its reduction in force policy Tuesday, meaning several positions at the charter school will be shelved due to a budget shortfall.

A special meeting was called on Friday, Jan. 24, to notify staff of the situation. The SODA Governing Council approved the first action item on the agenda, which was to approve the resolution. Action on the second item on the agenda — consideration to implement the RIF plan — was postponed until Tuesday, Jan. 28, so a plan could be created and presented based on how many staff members would volunteer for a furlough.

During Tuesday’s meeting, it was revealed that 23 staff members and administration have volunteered to “donate” a total of 129 furlough days, and the school will have to eliminate seven certified staff members and five support staff members.

SODA Superintendent Mike Ogas said he pushed the RIF off for as long as he could.

Ogas said the 129 furlough days amount to $88,529.01 that will go towards the shortfall.

“We met with staff Monday morning and by 9 a.m. Tuesday morning they had donated all those days. It lessened the impact,” Ogas said.

In total, the budget impact is about $470,000 to allow cushion for some of the payouts that have occurred since the last payroll.

Ogas read a memo written to the SODA Governing Council which explained its reduction in force plan and why it is necessary at this time.

“The purpose of this policy is to establish an orderly, nondiscriminatory and equitable procedure to reduce the number of School of Dreams Academy employees in the event that school expenditures, insufficient or reduced revenues and to preserve a sound, balanced education program that is consistent with the function and responsibilities of the school’s charter,” Ogas read.

Under the current policy, the reasons for a RIF are school reorganization, which may occur when a charter program is ending, consolidating or when reorganizing school programs and functions, decreased enrollment and financial exigencies.

Ogas said the financial situation the school found itself in stems from a combination of events going as far back as the 2016-2017 school year.

“During the spring of 2017, New Mexico was in a financial crisis resulting in the state sweeping cash balances from state entities, public and charter schools.

“The result for SODA was a decrease in approximately $300,000 that we had been saving for our new building and other projects. This caused a tremendous strain on our budget and we initiated a RIF at that time,” Ogas said.

He said during the 2018 Legislative session, a bill was introduced that was supposed to reinstate the dollars swept during the previous budget year, but it ultimately failed.

“During the 2018-2019 school year, the state cut ancillary FTE funding by 2.0, resulting in a reduction of over $225,000 to our funding,” Ogas said. “That same year, we also lost funding due to decrease in enrollment, which was $200,000.”

Since the 2016-17 school year, the school has experienced a decrease in enrollment. During that school year, the total enrollment was 520 students, which was before third through sixth grades were added.

The 2017-18 school year brought a decline of enrollment down to 428 students with third grade being added. In 2018-19 enrollment increased to 450 students when the fourth grade was added.

This current school year, the school’s 40 day enrollment was 464 students with Pre-K through 12th grade.

“We have made many attempts to address this budget shortfall by cutting costs and through attrition, however these efforts have not been enough,” Ogas said.

“For the past three years, our enrollment has not met our budget projections and enrollment has declined. That, coupled with how students are counted and weighted for funding, has resulted in a budget shortfall of approximately $470,000.”

Programs will not be cut from the school because they need to keep the integrity of the charter to keep federal and state funding.

Ogas said the staff should be commended for their belief in the school.

“This kind of thing is probably one of the hardest things that an administration goes through. It’s never any easier,” Ogas said.

“The numbers that we estimated for this year were not grandiose; they were fairly conservative but even those numbers didn’t pan out,” said SODA Governing Council member Kenneth Griego.

“But the staff who volunteered for the furlough need to be commended. Some of these folks cannot afford it but believe in the school, their fellow staff and the students so much that they’re doing this.”

Ogas said a scoring rubric was created to determine which positions were most likely to be eliminated and staff will be notified.

SODA Governing Council Secretary Dr. David Schneider said responsibility falls on the governing council to make sure this isn’t repeated.

“It comes back to us. We need to try and figure out how to not have this happen again,” Schneider said.

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