San Jon school board approves budget
May 20, 2020
The San Jon Municipal Schools board of trustees last week approved its $3.2 million budget for the next school year, but that amount may change after the state legislature holds a special session this summer to address budget shortfalls mainly created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
San Jon’s budget assumes a 4% pay raise for employees would remain in place. But superintendent Janet Gladu said those increases may be taken away by slashes in the state budget during the special session that’s anticipated in July.
“This is a best guess; we’ve never been in a pandemic before,” she said of the budget.
Gladu said during the board’s videoconference meeting she learned from a recent conference call with school superintendents they anticipate $1.3 billion in cuts to state programs, which is down from $2 billion anticipated a few weeks ago.
The effects of COVID-19, plus a Russia-Saudi oil price war, sent the state’s budget from a healthy surplus to steep deficits in just a few months.
The state’s budget outlook has improved in recent weeks, partly because of an inflow of federal money from the coronavirus relief bill. She said the state’s public schools require a 1.8% increase in funding “to maintain what we have.”
Gladu said superintendents a few weeks ago talked about the possibility of a so-called fund sweep, where the state seizes any cash balance in districts’ budgets.
“The state has the authority to take the money back,” she said in a phone interview after the meeting. “It is always a fear of superintendents, because when a state starts hurting for cash, regardless of what state you’re in, they come after school district funds and retirement funds.”
Some superintendents recommended districts spend down their cash balances to keep the state from confiscating funds, but Gladu told the board she was “uncomfortable” depleting San Jon’s $313,131 budgeted cash balance.
Since that time, she said “the conversation has shifted away” from fund sweeps at school districts.
The state also has floated the idea of fully funding school districts this year, then instituting bigger budget cuts the next fiscal year. But Gladu told the board she’d rather “take the hit now” fiscally than later.
Gladu said after the meeting she doesn’t anticipate layoffs at the San Jon district, partly because it’s so small.
“If you cut one position, it adds more to another person’s plate dramatically,” she said.
Looking ahead to the school year, Gladu said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines require six feet of social distancing on school buses. She said San Jon’s buses would carry only 20 students at a time.
She said some school districts are considering a split schedule of morning and afternoon classes with separate groups of students. She said whether fall sports will be held remains uncertain because of the pandemic.
In other business, Gladu said San Jon has delayed scheduling a graduation because its three seniors want to hold a live, in-person ceremony later this summer.
Gladu said many school districts in New Mexico face an Aug. 1 deadline to hold a non-virtual graduation. She said because San Jon is a small district, it can schedule a ceremony on a Saturday “with just a few days’ notice.”