By Darrell Todd Maurina
Local officials are still scratching their heads and trying to determine what Tuesday’s election results mean for their future.
New Mexico voters passed a proposal on Tuesday reorganizing the state department of education and placing it under the authority of the governor, but the outcome of a second vote to increase education funding remains in doubt. According to the secretary of state and The Associated Press, a proposal to increase distributions from the state’s land grant permanent fund lost by 23 votes. But county clerks have until Oct. 3 to finish tallying any remaining uncounted votes and determine the validity of questionable ballots.
That leaves funding in doubt for Gov. Bill Richardson’s proposed increase in teacher salaries. It also leaves Patrick Lyons, a Cuervo resident who serves as the state’s commissioner of public lands, wondering what the rules will be on distributing money from a fund established before New Mexico became a state.
Lyons said the close margin shows serious objections to taking more money out of the fund, and suggested the state should seek funding elsewhere. “We want to provide some alternative funding, to try to cut expenses, and get some more money out of the land office by such means as land leases,” Lyons said. “I think we need to find some other sources, and we have some ideas on that. We should have Medicaid reform, and we feel like we need to getmoney by cutting waste in government. We need to have a more pro-business attitude in this state to create income growth.”
Lyons suggested that if more funding is still needed, legislators may want to use a higher percentage of severance tax bonds.
Portales Superintendent Jim Holloway said his district, like most others in the state, relies on state funding sources for 96 to 97 percent of its money. Local property taxes are used only for occasional expenses such as capital building projects and smaller bills such as equipment and technology purchases.
That means the local districts could be greatly affected by a change in education governance.
“I wasn’t sure this would be the way, completely changing the state governance, but since we have done that, I am very hopeful and encouraged with the governor getting a panel of 32 members together to settle on the (appointment of the) secretary of education,” Holloway said.
However, the funding uncertainty raised concerns for Holloway. “We need to bring our teacher salaries at least up to par with the region,” Holloway said. “My concern is if this does not pass, where does the money come from? Do we take a step backward in funding education?”
“Either we have to cut programs or money has to come from something else,” Holloway said. “That is a concern because I don’t know where the somewhere else is and I don’t know where the cuts would come from.”
Ladona Clayton, assistant superintendent for instruction, said Clovis district officials also don’t know what to make of the Tuesday vote.
“The only thing I can tell you at this time is I’m not sure how it will affect our local district because they have not articulated all the functions this new person would provide (as secretary of education),” Clayton said. “We’re well aware when you change authority it is going to look different for us so naturally we have questions about what that will look like.”
Clayton said that despite reliance of local districts on state funding, the state so far has allowed local districts to develop their own educational approaches.
“Definitely the state plays a vital role in the development of standards and benchmarks that drive instruction for us in the local districts, but traditionally our state department of education has given us the flexibility to design local curriculum,” Clayton said. “We’re grateful for that and hope it continues to be the case.”