Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Submitted projections reflect enrollment drop


October 28, 2020

Tucumcari Public Schools submitted projections to the state that reflect about a 10% drop in enrollment during the 2021-2022 school year largely because of COVID-19. However, the district’s superintendent said he’ll request the same funding because he anticipates a bounce-back in student numbers when the pandemic ends.

The school board last week learned during reports from superintendent Aaron McKinney that TPS projects a total enrollment of 892 during the next school year. Documents submitted to the New Mexico Public Education Department reveal forecasts 412 students in the elementary school, 202 students in the middle school and 278 in the high school.

TPS has seen about a 15% drop-off this fall in elementary school numbers, while enrollment at the middle school and high school appear to be stable.

McKinney said enrollment at New Mexico public schools “is down everywhere” about 10%, including Quay County, during the pandemic. He said some parents are homeschooling their children this year in response to the virus.

He said he and other superintendents will ask the New Mexico Legislature in its January session to “hold schools harmless” — in short, freeze school budgets at current levels. Enrollment is a major factor in all public schools’ funding.

“We believe when we get going back again (after the pandemic), our numbers will go back up,” McKinney said.

During a follow-up phone interview last week, McKinney wouldn’t entertain a guess how much of funding hit Tucumcari schools would face if the Legislature rejects his and other superintendents’ requests for a funding freeze.

“I don’t think we know at this point,” he said. “We won’t have those numbers until we start to set our budgets. Nobody’s sure right now; that’s why we’d like to be held harmless, because we may end up with more kids than we turned in (with projections).”

The state government is looking at an estimated budget deficit of $2 billion to $2.4 billion because of the economic impact of COVID-19 and the collapse of oil and gas prices.

In other business:

n In a previous board meeting, McKinney said there would be no repercussions if district staff members refused random COVID-19 testing of 5% of the staff. He said last week that has changed, as the New Mexico Environmental Department has been tasked to ensure safe workplaces.

As a result, McKinney said he’s asked for volunteers to be among the 5% of those initially tested. The state requires seven district employees per week to be tested for the virus. McKinney said the new nasal swabs administered by the state Department of Health aren’t as uncomfortable as earlier versions.

McKinney said the Clovis school district recently was forced to go entirely online with its teaching because 100 staffers are quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure.

“We won’t go to full remote unless we’re forced to,” he said. “I want the kids in the classroom.”

n The board voted to continue to hold its meetings online via Google Meets, especially after the state’s public health order was amended earlier this month that bans public gatherings of no more than five people at a time, down from the previous 10.

McKinney said many school districts are “moving backwards” with in-person classes because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state.

“It could be shut down through March like this,” he said.

n The board heard reports from middle school principal Lendall Borden, high school principal Nicole Bright-Lesly, elementary school principal Tonya Hodges, athletic director Wayne Ferguson and technologist Patrick Benavidez.

Borden said his school made changes regarding attendance records and anticipates a more productive second nine weeks of the semester.

Bright-Lesly said report cards are being emailed and mailed with a hard copy and remote learning tips to parents. She said staff would hold meetings with juniors and seniors who’d recorded failing grades during the first nine weeks. She said a few students still had internet issues, but the situation was improving daily.

Hodges said daily temperature screenings encountered a “hiccup” when the device didn’t work well during a recent cold snap, and staffers were making adjustments. She said a state inspector was “very pleased” with how the school handled a recent positive test with one of its staff members.

Benavidez said Tucumcari recently became an official 1-to-1 district, meaning each child has a computer device, with the arrival of several hundred Chromebooks.

He said damaged Chromebook screens are reported once a day, and he hoped to reduce that. Several board members praised Benavidez for setting up a Facebook page for the district.


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