Clovis schools tighten belt to avoid budget crunch

By Gary Mitchell

Clovis schools will eliminate more than 20 teaching positions for the upcoming school year as a result of this year’s unfunded state mandate for an across-the-board raise for teachers.
However, no teachers will be fired or laid off, Clovis school officials say.
“We have about 22 teaching positions we have absorbed for the coming school year,” said Clovis school superintendent Neil Nuttall. “This past year, we had a few class overloads, but we won’t be having those next year, so those positions have been eliminated.”
Earlier this year, the New Mexico Legislature mandated a 6 percent increase in teacher salaries for the 2003-04 academic year, but left the responsibility for funding the raises in the hands of each school district.
The schools were asked to move 1 percent of their operational budgets, as well as use reserve savings to cover the raises.
Clovis schools, which employ 580 teachers, are responsible for coming up with close to $1 million during the next two years to cover the expense.
Jim McDaniel, assistant superintendent for personnel, said the school looked hard at the district’s staffing issues before making the changes.
“We’ve already taken a look at current employees, and we haven’t renewed contracts unless we were absolutely sure we would need those positions next year,” McDaniel said. “Secondly, we’ve spent some time looking at programs and staffing patterns. We have to see where we can make cuts in the budget.
“And thirdly, we’ve made every effort to follow the letter of the law to develop salary schedules for the coming academic year. We haven’t laid anybody off, and we haven’t invoked our reduction-in-force policy because of the shortage — and we don’t anticipate doing that,” McDaniel said.
The budget crunch faced by school districts throughout the state was the result of the governor’s initiative to fund teacher pay raises, which are recurring costs, by using school districts’ non-recurring revenue, school officials say.
“We’re not trying to balance our budget over one year, but over two years,” Nuttall said. “The way we’ve done it is with a two-year plan instead of a one-year plan. Next year, we’ll be dependent on the Legislature filling the hole that was dug by taking nonrecurring revenue.”
This year, Nuttall said, “There’s $42 million of non-recurring revenue being used to make the educational budget. The schools were asked to move 1 percent of their operational budgets from non-salary functions, as well as to use carryover funds to pay for salary increases. You can’t do that year after year. There’s no money available. You have to have money to bolster those actions that were done.”
Nuttall said the Clovis High School nursery/daycare program for teen mothers also will be discontinued primarily because of declining numbers and interest.
“We’ve had such low numbers the last two years, and I felt like we weren’t able to continue,” he said. “On an average, there were six kids at any one time, and the program is designed to serve 18-20.”
Money that previously went to licensed daycare programs, such as the high school program, now can be used to pay family members or relatives for child care, Nuttall said.
Despite the budget cuts, school officials seem pleased with the outcome.
“We’re actually in pretty good shape this year,” McDaniel said, “because we’re generally frugal with our resources. Next year, though, we’ll be dependent on the Legislature coming through to fund us. They’ll need to make up what has been depleted from our cash balance.”
“We’re pretty confident our budget this year will meet the financial needs of our district,” Nuttall said. “But it was the toughest budget in my 16 years as a school superintendent. I’m still real optimistic about our educational system. I’m excited about next year. We’ll be able to pay our instructional staff a healthy increase, which I think they deserve, and we’ve been able to give our support staff a salary increase as well. If I had to characterize this budget, it’s a leaner, meaner budget, but a very effective one.”