Los Lunas

The Los Lunas School Board is not going to sign or pass the district’s budget because, it says, there are too many uncertainties at the state level.

Until Governor Gary Johnson approves the state budget, the school board is not sure where the district is headed.

“Is the governor prepared to sign the state budget in May?” Deputy Superintendent Bill Moffatt asked at the school board meeting Tuesday night.

“We don’t know what will happen. It all depends on what the state does. We could get more, or less, money.

“I’m pessimistic. I think anything you could approve tonight is misleading.”

This is the first year Moffatt has not asked the board to approve a budget.

“This is a draft, and that’s exactly what it is until you approve it. This whole document could change. It would create premature expectations with employees and members of the community to say things we might not be able to do.”

According to Moffatt, as a result of the budget situation, the district will likely experience the four following consequences:

  • The district cannot enter into contracts for next year. “All of our letters of intent we’re providing employees are contingent upon approval of the budget,” Moffatt said.

“The longer this drags out, the longer the employees sit in uncertainty. It’s not a fair message to give them.”

  • The district is supposed to order textbooks on May 1, to ensure delivery by first day of school.

“I can’t do that without an approved budget. The longer we argue or don’t have a budget, it may mean our kids start school without the necessary textbooks. We can’t pay for books with money we don’t have,” Moffatt said.

  • The district can’t make commitments. All employees will be rehired contingent upon approval of the budget. That includes all contracted staff, psychological or speech therapy services.

“Not just employees, but no contractual relationship for next year can be made until we have a budget,” he said.

That means the district cannot enter into an agreement with the Village of Los Lunas for the summer recreation program. “That’s not fair to the kids,” Moffatt said.

He said any expenditure planning for next year is premature. “That’s not fair to the principals or the staff, that I can’t plan. I can’t give them guidance now.

“It causes us a lot of problems with planning for next school year. There are so many things we do before July 1. We start the process in January the year before.”

It is very likely that the district will see significant revenue changes in the operations fund.

“We have no revenues at all. What we did was build a budget on last year’s unit value. It’s hard to make it all mesh because we don’t know. The bottom line is, this is our best guess,” Moffatt said. Unit value is the per-pupil money given to the district by the state.

“We may not have everything we want, and we might not be able to do more. The flip side is we have money to do everything we have to do to educate kids.”

Regarding expenditure issues, the district plans a $475,000 district-wide step increase in pay for all employees, except those in cafeterias.

“As a priority, the school board has asked for this. We will carry it out as long as our best guess holds up. Those would have to go if we lose money in the state budget,” he said.

“We’ve worked hard to have our employees paid well. This is a bad position to be in, but we have to remember this is happening statewide.”

Meanwhile, employees are seeing their costs go up.

Moffatt said the district is trying to provide money for employees to help with the additional costs for health insurance and retiree health care.

Blue Cross has increased by 13 percent, while Presbyterian and Lovelace have seen a 10 percent rise. Retiree health care has grown from 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

Moffatt said a good faith effort has been to gather the most input possible in the creation of this budget.

“We talked to principals, teachers and classified employees. The public hearing we held was not well attended.”

Input received for the district focused on three areas in the budget. Each was addressed in a positive way, Moffatt said. The issues were:

  • The recruitment and retaining of good employees.
  • Not to embark on new programs costing money.
  • Continue to provide English as a second language and bilingual incentives.

The targeted school board budget approval date is June 20.

“There will be some hard choices to make,” said Board President Bob Whorton.

Board Member Art Castillo said he’d be skeptical of approving a budget if the district doesn’t hear from the legislature.

On April 9, Moffatt will present the approximately $47,376,914 budget draft to the State Board of Education in Santa Fe. It’s a reduction from this year of $477,000 from last year because of at-risk, ancillary and bilingual factors.

“We’ve done well in New Mexico over the past five years,” Moffatt said. “I know we’ll make it through this one lean year.”

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Jennifer Harmon