School board trims budget

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The Socorro Consolidated Schools Board of Education has reduced its operating budget for the 2012-13 school year by over $550,000, just in time to submit it to the New Mexico Public Education Department.

During its meeting on Monday, June 4, the budget committee presented a budget with a deficit of $514,000 — less than half of the previously proposed $1.171 million deficit. Over the course of the meeting, the board agreed to add around $130,000 to the budget before approving a budget with a deficit of around $650,000 to be presented to the PED, with calculations on exactly how much the deficit would increase after these measures to be finished before the budget was due on Tuesday, June 5.

Previously, the board had been hesitant to cut personnel costs, which made up 89-90 percent of their operating budget, according to Interim Superintendant Vannetta Perry.

“When you’re trying to cut $1.171 million, you’re going to have to address personnel,” she said.

Suggestions had been made (although no one was named at the meeting) that the buildings at the central office, San Antonio Elementary School and Sarracino Middle School be shut down. The 5 percent of the budget that goes to operating buildings is fixed, and Perry said this move “saves a very small amount unless we cut staff.”

Cuts Made

The budget committee was able to make several cuts, though. Duplicate and antiquated software licenses will not be renewed, the district will begin hosting its own website, use of substitute teachers will be reduced, a different mail monitoring system will be implemented, and measures will be taken to reduce the cost of utilities.

Against Board President Ann Shiells’ previous advice, one of the two counseling positions at Socorro High School will be cut.

Shiells later said, “My understanding is that they are going to fill one position and another person existing in the system will help with scheduling and credit checks and those types of things, and we had to find places to cut, so at least two people will be in the office, and the other will be dealing primarily with student issues.”

The position of human resources director was to be left vacant, with duties to be assumed by Assistant Superintendant George Schumpelt, who is currently in charge of curriculum. Shiells made note of the board’s previous desire to hire someone to handle curriculum full-time so as to alleviate teachers of that burden, and how that burden would, in part, fall back upon the teachers if Schumpelt were expected to add HR duties to his job description.

“It (would be) too much for me to handle,” Schumpelt said.

Perry recommended the board go along with the committee’s recommendation to eliminate the HR director position, but the board decided against it. Finance Officer Donald Monette estimated the total cost of hiring an HR director to be $110,000, which was added to the budget.

Work days for administrators were to be reduced from 245 to 230 in the cases of two employees at central office, three at SHS, one at Sarracino, and one at Zimmerly; from 245 to 220 in the cases of the Individualized Education Program and maintenance directors; and from 245 to 241 in the cases of the finance office, food service and transportation administrators, with the superintendents’ schedules to remain at 245 days. But it didn’t sit right with the board that two employees would bear the brunt of this reduction, so at an estimated cost of $20,000, the IEP and maintenance directors were brought up to 230 hours.

Rumors Quashed

One man, however, did have a personal complaint about the board’s budgeting actions. During public comments, Zimmerly Elementary Principal Rey Carrejo enumerated the issues he had with his relocation to Parkview Elementary.

Carrejo said he felt “singled out, and that seniority was not taken into account (when this decision was made.) … I feel discriminated against.”

The board explained that, due to the reduction in enrollment for Zimmerly, they were going to remove the position of principal altogether and replace it with a head teacher, who would handle teaching as well as administrative duties. As a result, in order to keep Carrejo on an administrator’s pay scale, they were moving him to Parkview and moving Parkview’s dean of students, Janice Jaramillo, to Zimmerly to assume the role of head teacher.

With all of the cuts to be identified, Monette said it might calm some people’s nerves.

“This will quash rumors that secretaries are getting cut and pay is getting cut,” he said.

After adding the HR director position back into the budget and increasing the IEP and maintenance directors’ work time to match the other administrators’ schedules, the board unanimously passed the budget with an estimated deficit of $650,000.

Now the PED will decide whether to provide the $650,000 in emergency funding the district will require. If it grants SCS the funds requested, it will scrutinize every aspect of the board’s spending for the next year and may move up deadlines for audits, demand a general reduction of personnel, cut programs, or other such sanctions.

“They (the state) might tell us we’re top heavy,” Shiells said. “(But) if we have to (get rid of administrators), we have to.”

However, if the PED rejects the budget and its deficit, the board will spend its next meeting reducing the deficit even further.

Shiells made it clear she was willing to renegotiate the budget if necessary, but that she felt it more important to try for more funds in order make sure staff “has enough time to do their jobs.”

Fiscal Responsibility

As she said at the last meeting, “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.”

At this meeting, Shiells added further justification for requesting funds from the state. About 12 years ago, she said, when SCS and other districts had sizable cash reserves, the state took a lot of money from those reserves for its own purposes.

“The state previously took money from our cash reserves, so I don’t feel bad about asking for money from them now,” she said, later adding, “I’m not overjoyed that we have to request emergency funding, but I do not want education to be negatively impacted.”

The next morning, though, Monette had some good news. He said the additions made would not bring the budget up nearly as much as he’d predicted. His revised projected shortfall was just $557,924.

And now, Monette said, “We will be asking the state to help us with emergency supplemental funds to cover this deficit. There is no guarantee the state will meet this request. Also, the PED can still require we make other cuts.”

The Pre-K Question

This budget does not include the pre-kindergarten program, which was partially funded by the district’s cash reserves last year. Whether or not that service will be offered this year is still up in the air, pending external funding sources.

The Head Start preschool program would be able to accommodate the four-year-old children who would otherwise be going on to pre-K should that program fail to get funding, but the parents of some children are expecting pre-K to be offered again and haven’t filled out paperwork to keep their kids enrolled.

San Antonio School

The board decided to take the BLM up on its land offer and will be purchasing the entire 25-acre parcel at $10 per acre.

No decision has been made as to whether the current facilities will be renovated or new facilities built. However, if the old building is renovated, the land will be used for nature trails or an outdoor classroom.

There is a trespassing issue with the multipurpose room being built at the current school, which would have to be resolved if said facilities were to stay in use.

Interim Superintendant Vanetta Perry suggested that the district focus on building a new school. Board Secretary Dawn Weaver suggested that the BLM land option be used to resolve the trespass issue.

Still, even after deciding to buy this land, the board has two years before they’ll be able to do anything with it. Until that time has passed, this will not change the day-to-day school activities of the San Antonio School’s students.

Socorro High Achievers

On the bright side of things, the board approved two out-of-state trips for extracurricular groups at Socorro High School.

The SHS varsity cross country team will be going to a meet at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo. Seven boys, seven girls and three coaches will be going to the meet, which takes place on Saturday, Sept. 8.

SHS cross country head coach Steven Montoya said in his report that the trip was an opportunity to give his runners a glimpse of the university and one of Division II’s top cross country programs.

Also, the SHS Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement team will be going to Seattle for a competition, June 22-24. This competition’s focus is wind energy.

The team will “give an oral presentation, prepare an academic display, write a technical paper, and design/build their physical devices,” according to Washington MESA’s website.