Magdalena schools face $300,000 budget shortfall

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The celebration welcoming newly elected board members Nancy Jaramillo and Gail Armstrong and honoring departing members Marva Brunson and Barbara Gordon was dampened by bad news about the budget at Monday night’s Magdalena Municipal School board meeting.

Falling enrollment, the 5 percent sequestration reduction in federal monies, and a New Mexico Public Education Dept. spreadsheet error mean the district has to find a way to cut about $300,000 out of next year’s budget, Superintendent Mike Chambers told the board.

The district won’t know exactly how much money it will have next year until PED examines the district’s budget after it is submitted April 18. A public hearing about the budget is scheduled for April 9 at 6 p.m. in the fine arts building.

No matter what the final numbers are, budget cuts are looming. Since 80 percent of the budget is dedicated to salaries, Chambers said, the district will have to find ways to reduce staffing. Reduction in force will be a reality, he said.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions about personnel,” he said. “We are going to be losing teachers at the elementary school, and reducing mid-school and high school teaching staff by one to two people.”

Chambers handed out the district policy about reducing professional staff to the board. The first step is to not replace professional and classified staff who retire or resign. If natural attrition is not sufficient, a variety of factors are used to determine which staff are let go. The top priority is to maintain required programs and class offerings. After that, a variety of considerations, including qualifications, are used to determine which teachers are terminated. The last consideration, made only if all else is equal, is length of service with the district.

Staffing is not the only area that will be cut.

In order to fund the popular National Dance Institute program for upper elementary students, Chambers said he had to eliminate two other popular activities: Spring Fling and the Easter egg hunt.

The district may have to reduce its bus route and release one driver, he said. The late activity bus to the Alamo reservation will be kept, although when the student count is low, the district may use its Suburban instead of a school bus to save fuel costs.

The numbers tell the story. The district has lost $578,000 in revenue from the state because of declining enrollment. Over the past four years, the student count has dropped by 98 students. Federal and state program funding has been slashed to the tune of $1,553,000.

Magdalena has also been cut out of $42,000 this year because of an error made in a PED spreadsheet, Chambers said. New Mexico school districts receive equalization funds to help pay the increased costs of educating special needs students. Chambers noticed that Magdalena’s share had declined inexplicably. After analyzing the spreadsheet, he found that Lovington had received the equalization share that should have gone to Magdalena.

“Lovington got our numbers,” he said. “We got their numbers. Everyone from Las Vegas down on the spreadsheet had errors.”

Chambers estimates the total loss to Magdalena over the past three years to be about $100,000. He has contacted PED, who acknowledged the problem, but hasn’t received any word about how the error will be rectified. Until then, Magdalena has to do without.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for April 23 at 6 p.m. in the school library.