School districts across the state have felt the impact of the budget crisis and has left them planning for the next fiscal year without a finalized budget agreement for the state.
Dr. Gregory Ewing, Superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools says the New Mexico Public Education Department has taken $2.7 million from the district’s operating funds. Ewing says the PED also took $500,000 from the district's transportation budget which is used to transport students to school. He also says LCPS also had $191,000 from instructional materials and supplies account.
Ewing says that in January, the district was told that the state was going to take money out of the district’s reserve fund.
“That amount of money in our account we like to keep at seven million dollars,” says Ewing.
Ewing says that the state education department wanted $3.5 million back.
“That would have depleted our funds and put us in almost at a insolvency type of situation,” says Ewing.
Ewing says he and other superintendents across the state went to Santa Fe to voice their concerns to state legislators which ended in a bill being passed and signed by the governor. Ewing says that district’s cash balance on June 30, 2016 did not exceed what was in the law so the district was able to keep the $3.5 million.
Governor Susanna Martinez has been quoted as referring to cash reserves that local school districts have as “slush funds.” Ewing says he does not agree with that term when describing his district’s reserves.
“For us those are funds that are used for children, those are funds that are used to buy supplies in the district, those are funds that are used to buy products, those are funds that are used to make payroll each month,” says Ewing.
Ewing says the district is working to planning a budget next year with the potential special session in mind.
“We’re planning in the dark. We’re planning a budget next year assuming that our budget is what is has been this previous year,” says Ewing.
Ewing also discussed the challenge of recruiting, he said what he wants potential teachers to understand his leadership style and that he has spend plenty of years in the classroom. Ewing says he wants teachers in his school district to "get back to the basics" and teach.
“Teachers need the academic freedom to close the door and to simply teach students. We’ve put far too much emphasis on testing and we’ve put far too much emphasis on testing,” says Ewing.
The LCPS Superintendent also says that far too much emphasis is also put on “blame the teacher” instead of “teaching the child.”
Ewing says he is also concerned that higher education budget cuts could hurt the next generation of teachers, along with current LCPS students who are enrolled in college credit courses.
This is the first part of KRWG's conversation with Dr. Gregory Ewing, Superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools on issues facing the school district.