Democrats are shaking in their boots. Really.
But what about pissy parents whose concerns with the current political and economic climate are less tangled up in vague pseudo-patriotic rhetoric and more grounded in practical matters? Them, I’d be scared of.
At the April 22 Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education meeting, we were told that it all comes down to money. Small schools, spread throughout the city, populating and enlivening neighborhoods, fostering community and bolstering quality education are nice and all, but the money is tight now, so small schools are dead for the foreseeable future.
Alvord, Kaune and Larragoite elementary schools will be consolidated into one entity. Acequia Madre will move to Atalaya Elementary some time next year, unless, of course, delaying the move leaves an opening to preserve the most sacred and most heavily defended of all the schools.
Not likely, Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez warned at the meeting. “The worst is not over,” she told concerned parents, hinting at more legislative cuts to come.
That’s an unhappy prospect, considering that in addition to the consolidation, the board is increasing class sizes, cutting $600,000 worth of staff, cutting 100 grand out of sports and, more predictably, $200,000 out of arts education. Special education took it on the chin with a $325,000 cut.
And, oh yeah, Gutierrez and her administrative staff took a whopping 2 percent pay cut. Really big of them, considering New Mexico is reported to have some of the highest administrative costs per school dollar in the United States.
It all amounts to $6.8 million in cuts that are expected to officially balance the school system’s budget once it’s approved at a May 6 meeting. Never mind that school consolidation savings are based on questionable math that is dependent on leasing soon-to-be-vacant school property when existing schools are moved to currently vacant, unprofitable property.
That’s right, the SFPS will be playing a game of musical schools and hedging its bets on private real estate transactions. We all know Alvord will make a lovely parking lot. Acequia Madre, with its location, location, location, could be a really nice condo development.
The school board is sacrificing small schools (and sacrificing stable, small-school funding boosts from government) in exchange for a game of property management that involves musical schools and musical students (but no funding for actual music education). The expected total savings of the school consolidation effort? $1 million.
Personally, I think the school board members in favor of the current “cost-cutting scheme” are insane, misguided and unable to see a future beyond their noses. On the one hand, city and county efforts are geared toward energizing neighborhoods, encouraging creativity and innovation, and empowering interaction between a range of ages and incomes. On the other hand, the school board feels justified in helping to wreck those plans with a reactionary response to a short-term problem—a response with long-term ramifications.
But as much as I want the school board members to behave like angelic visionaries, they are playing the hand they’ve been dealt. I’m not excusing the decision—the board could have been much more progressive and forward thinking in solving its budget—but state lawmakers should have preempted the need.
Income tax for the wealthy is too low in New Mexico. Certain regions are laughably taxed in terms of actual property value. The out-of-state corporate loophole still allows many tens of millions of dollars to be sucked away from New Mexico like a kind of explosive monetary decompression. And the state’s funding formula for schools is in desperate need of repair on many fronts.
All of these issues are ones that legislators ultimately declined to address in the past two sessions, despite warning signs and the state’s own intense budget crisis.
Between 12,000 and 15,000 people marched on the capitol building in Springfield, Ill., this year—many more than show up for your average national tea party march—and demanded that legislators raise their income taxes to prevent school cuts.
Those energized parents, voters and union members will probably be ignored out of fear of raising taxes in an election year.
We can only imagine so many New Mexicans rallying to give state government and local school boards such an involved slap in the face. But we can chalk up some simple math of our own: Without effective, well-funded education, everything else that we do suffers. Education is the foundation of any community, and to have allowed education to become and remain so marginalized for so long—to continue to tolerate government and economic apparatuses that reward investment bankers over teachers—is a shame that we collectively bear.
To have allowed the SFPS board to find itself in a position that requires such deep cuts and to be too afraid to think about a better future in the face of a dismal present is a shame on this community.
I don’t know for sure how we exorcise that shame now that we’ve come this far—but I’d bet lawmakers at all levels are going to feel some wrath.
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