By Las Cruces Bulletin Facing state deadlines, area government entities are pulling together their budgets, with some having to make cuts, especially Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) to avoid a possible deficit scenario. At a town hall meeting Tuesday, May 12, Superintendent Stan Rounds said he believed that he had found a budget plan with multiple cuts that puts the budget back into balance. “This budget is one that has a lot of challenge to it,” he said. In recent years, LCPS has seen enrollment growth slow to a point it lost out on extra money from the state to help it accommodate growth, while also opening up a fourth full high school and two smaller early college high schools. That put staff levels out of balance, Rounds admitted. Rounds also blamed part of the problem on low prices for oil and gas, which squeezed how much the state could support the schools while also losing federal support for funding schools following the recession. Since he began being a superintendent in the 1980s, the portion of state dollars to schools has shrunk from 53 percent to 43 percent today. Rounds said that erosion stems from the state taking on more health care costs. All of these conspired to put LCPS in an uncomfortable budget situation. This time last year, the district was wrapping up the school year with more than $8 million in cash reserves, which is more than the 3 percent required by the state. This year, that cash balance is down a little more than $3 million. Meanwhile, the district was faced with increased costs for medical insurance, risk insurance, utilities and transportation. Those increases and replenishing the cash balance to a comfortable level meant the district had to find more than $7.6 million in cuts to its $185 million operation budget, which is almost $3 million less than this year despite a more than $2 million increase in state money, Rounds said. Working with the school board, cuts made have been nearly $1.2 million in central office administration and reorganizing teaching staff levels – “right sizing” is the term Rounds used – that will result in 55 fewer teaching positions next year. All staff – from Rounds to teachers – will have to lose three days of pay through a furlough that that will be spread out over the 24 pay periods. Furlough days won’t take away from instruction, but will mean three less professional development days for teachers, he said. A variety of other cuts worked out with the school board include eliminating a middle school alternative program, holding off on new vehicle purchases, fewer lunchroom monitors, funding only required testing and cutting back on the number of assistant principals and educational assistants. Rounds said he believed more savings could be found in transportation, but that will depend on negotiations with the bus contractor. In an answer to a question, Rounds said cutting transportation of out-ofdistrict students to magnet middle schools was a possibility. Through retirements and attrition, Rounds said he believed he wouldn’t have to let anyone go because of the budget cuts. As for the teacher furloughs, they will still have 11 professional development days available to them, he said. Schools that will see one less assistant principal include Oñate and Mayfield high schools and Vista and Mesa middle schools. The school board in its meeting Tuesday, May 26, will take final action on the budget plan before it is sent to the state Department of Finance and Administration.
Todd G. Dickson