Schools face big money crunch

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The Socorro Consolidated Schools Board of Education passed its 2012-13 operational budget, alongside a motion to apply for $1.17 million in emergency state funding in order to balance it.

The budget and the application for emergency funding were passed unanimously as a single motion at Monday’s meeting of the board. While conceptual concerns about passing an unbalanced budget were nominally acknowledged, School Board President Ann Shields said,

“This school district has been fiscally responsible for many years, and the only time we request emergency funding is when we absolutely need it. It doesn’t mean we’ve been functioning outside what is reasonable. I, personally, do not have any reservations about applying for this fund because education needs to remain strong in this community.”

Concern was raised about the amount of direct oversight that would be imposed if emergency funding were approved. However, while the district’s use of the money would be scrutinized closely, the state would not directly intervene with school management. Failing approval for these funds, the school board’s next meeting will focus on balancing the budget.

Socorro’s school board is hardly alone in asking for state aid this coming year; one school board member estimated that 15 school districts in New Mexico would face the same situation.

As part of measures taken to help keep the budget in check, Socorro Consolidated Schools is currently under a hiring freeze, meaning that no new positions will be created. However, several employees did retire or resign this year, so the school board will be seeking replacements, with a preference toward internal hires.

While the two open counseling positions, one at Socorro High School and one at Sarracino Middle School, may be of lower priority than other positions, Shields said, “I know that we have to make cuts, but I hope that it’s not in the counseling department, and I hate to make cuts anywhere, but we have a lot of kids… we have a lot of families going through a lot. Sometimes a lot of that pressure trickles down to kids and they need that support. That’s one area I hope we don’t scrimp on.”

Socorro Schools will be investigating contractors as options, but it was noted that this might not save them any money.

San Antonio Plans

No matter what happens with the budget, the plans for the San Antonio Elementary School will not be affected. Currently, the question remains: will the existing building be renovated, or will new facilities be built?

The current buildings do present some structural concerns, which will prevent any future expansion — hardly surprising, since it’s one of the oldest occupied buildings in the district. This makes the county’s interest in the old buildings a non-surprise as well. In addition, the district would receive less funding to support renovating the old buildings than it would to build anew.

The Bureau of Land Management has offered 20 acres just south of Route 380 for a new building. But this situation is still in early stages. Getting the land from the BLM, if the school board decides to do so, will take at least two years.

The board is also still in the early stages of finding an architect. Further discussion and action is planned for the June meeting.

SHS Schedule Change

Socorro High School will undergo a schedule change next year, shifting from an eight-period school day to a seven-period school day. This decision comes after a series of staff meetings which took place throughout the year. Principal Craig DeYoung said,

“It was a fairly lengthy discussion, and there was passion on many different angles of it,” DeYoung said. “People are passionate about what they believe in, and that’s one of the characteristics of quality, effective teachers. They’re fiercely protective of their instructional time.”

This schedule change will allow for a half-hour intervention period for students struggling with core subjects.

Other students will have enrichment options available; preliminary offerings listed at Monday’s meeting included art, music and language classes. This does not, however, affect planning periods.

Four Winners

The school board announced the winners of the New Mexico School Boards Association Student Achievement Awards. The school board was unable to pick a single winner this year. Instead, four individuals were selected. Mary Gallegos, Jordan Vincent, Sam Hale and Tyler Lam were honored for their contributions to their schools and their communities.