Bills impacting schools await governor’s signature

Liliana Castillo

There are more than 15 bills waiting for the Governor Susana Martinez’ signature that will affect local schools.

Many will touch schools in a small way, such as changing a way something is reported or requiring schools to begin recycling. Others will have much bigger impact.

Rep. Dennis Roch, also Texico assistant principal, said a bill to assign a letter grade to each school will have the biggest effect on schools across the state.

Under the bill, each school in the state will be rated by a letter grade, A, B, C, D or F. Roch said the bill would provide a more accurate representation of student achievement than the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress pass or fail rating.

Clovis Superintendent Terry Myers said he believes if the process is done correctly, the change will be good for schools.

There are two bills competing to change the requirement for the number of school days. The House version will delay the change that passed in 2009 and the Senate bill wants to remove it completely.

Roch said the bill will give the schools the flexibility to meet a requirement of a certain number of hours instead of days.

“School can’t afford to add more school days,” Roch said. “It will cost $12 million to implement another school day across the state.”

Choosing between eradicating the number of days requirement or simply delaying is up to the governor.

“If we can get by with less days of school, we will have less expenses with utilities and gas,” Myers said. “If they’ll give us that flexibility.”

Myers said districts are waiting for the governor to make her decision so they can make a schedule for next year.

Another bill gives districts the security to keep cash balances for emergencies or big projects.

“This is a very good thing for districts,” Myers said. “This allows you to be a good steward of public tax dollars and develop our own savings account for unexpected issues.”

Myers said previously, school cash funds were reclaimed by the state to help balance the budget.

Another bill will increase the amount of money teachers must pay into the Educational Retirement Board pension program.

In 2009, the percentage a teacher paid out of their pay check was raised from 7.9 percent to 9.4 percent and was intended to be temporary for one years to improve the solvency of the ERB.

The new bill increases the amount to 11.5 percent.

“I feel this places an unfair burden on our teachers,” Myers said. “Rather than the state contributing money to that, they in their wisdom decided the employees should pay in more.”

Myers said he understands the need to bring solvency to the ERB but he feels the state “went about it the wrong way.”

“It should be more of a shared thing,” Myers said.

Roch said he voted against the measure because he felt the state could have contributed.

“I don’t believe that the New Mexico Legislature did a good enough job cutting the fat out of the state budget. Instead they chose what some consider an easy option by shifting the cost to public employees. And they’re not just public employees, they’re public servants who answered the call,” Roch said. “The Legislature shifted the cost over to them to help balance the state budget and I think that’s inappropriate.”

Roch said this is another year in which teachers won’t be getting raises. And with inflation and gas prices up, teachers will be left with less take-home money.

“There will be less spendable dollars in every community in the state,” he said.

Roch said he was disappointed that a bill prohibiting corporal punishment in schools across the state made it to the governor’s desk.

“It should be permissive for each district. Their boards should be able to choose it and a board that chooses it, chooses it because it’s what their community wants,” he said.

Roch said supporters of the bill said eliminating corporal punishment would eliminate assault on children.

“When an administrator administers corporal punishment, it is because they and the parent and the community believe it is a good corrective action. Assault means to cause physical harm with malice. There is no malice in that,” he said.

Senate Bill 118 will provide an option for taxpayers to donate money to the school fund. House Bill 575 would allow emergency transportation funds to help pay for school bus fuel.

To view all bills, visit www.nmlegis.gov.