Funding frustrations

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A range of frustrations — stirred by overcrowded classrooms, staff recruiting troubles, funding constraints — emerged Thursday in a meeting on state education. And a generic and unrealistic funding formula was described.

“We have a tendency in funding to paint with a large brush,” said Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis.

“I don’t know that the funding system has served the pluralism of the state as it was intended to,” Harden said.

Harden was one of about two dozen people who gathered at the Clovis Schools administration building to discuss issues in local education and survey education goals for a statewide analysis of school funding.

Opinions expressed Thursday and in other meetings held across the state will be compiled and presented in the upcoming New Mexico Legislative session.

This is a first step in a 22-month study of the funding formula being conducted by the American Institutes for Research, according to Karen DeMoss, a University of New Mexico professor contracted to host the state meetings for the Institutes.

The study was commissioned by the Legislature, which may or may not reform the formula in 2008 based on its findings.

“We are trying to find out what the public wants schools to be,” DeMoss said. “Keep one school or district in mind,” she instructed her audience. “Try to think about those kids in that one district or school.”

Roughly 80 percent of those in attendance have had children in the New Mexico public schools and roughly 60 percent have worked in New Mexico public schools, according to a survey of the audience.

Of school funding, Clovis Schools Board of Education President Mark Lansford said: “I don’t care how you slice the pie, it’s not going to be fair to everybody.”

If local authorities had more freedom to design and meet the needs of their school districts, Lansford said, frustrations might be lightened.

A Texico teacher and a commissioner for a national association of school boards, Dennis Roch, dubbed some state funding mandates “arbitrary percentages dictated from Santa Fe.”

Established in 1974, the state funding formula has been adjusted over the years, but its main intent — to equalize school funding — has remained the same.
A survey similar to the one completed by Thursday’s attendants may be completed at www.nmschoolfunding.org.