Deming officials respond to recommendations
Algernon D'Ammassa, The Deming Headlight
Published 3:55 p.m. MT Nov. 9, 2017 | Updated 4:24 p.m. MT Nov. 9, 2017
DEMING – Should school districts spend more budget dollars in the classroom instead of administration? Would spending more on instruction and less on administrative costs improve student success?
An independent think tank based in Santa Fe says the answer is yes, as presented in a report issued last month along with a recommendation that the legislature step in.
Think New Mexico, which has advocated for full-day Kindergarten and legislative reforms in other areas of state government issued its report, “Improving Our Schools by Reallocating Dollars from Administration to the Classroom,” in October.
It argues that while the correlation between total spending per pupil and student outcomes is weak, the percentage of spending dedicated to classroom instruction makes a distinct difference. “Increasing the dollars available for education can improve student outcomes if they are targeted to the classroom,” the report finds.
TNM is calling for the state, which provides 90 percent of public school funding in New Mexico, to “set enforceable minimum percentages for classroom spending” as a condition for district budget approval by the Public Education Department.
Rep. Candie Sweetser (D-Deming) said she supports the goals of the proposed reforms but wondered about the means. "Do we really want Santa Fe dictating to that level what every school district has to do?”
Local response to the report from administration, educators, and one legislator indicate support for the report’s goals but questions about implementation. As Rep. Candie Sweetser (D-Deming) put it, “Do we really want Santa Fe dictating to that level what every school district has to do?”
A top-down solution?
“There are many aspects of the report that I very much support,” said Deming Public Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero, who added that the district “is currently completing audits now on how, where, and why we spend monies. We are continually evolving our internal controls so that we can better support students in the classroom.”
According to district data provided by Think New Mexico, Deming Public Schools devotes 72 percent of its budget to instruction and 28 percent to administration. This puts it just short of a goal of 75 percent set by the Public Education Department, which would increase to 76 percent by 2020 according to its strategic plan.
The district employs over 800 people in Luna County to serve approximately 5,200 students.
One local educator pointed to some wooden blocks in her classroom as an example: 50 of them, sanded to a smooth surface. She does not know what they are for.
DPS Superintendent Arsenio Romero, pictured at a school board meeting in July, said the district voluntarily audits its internal protocols "so that we can better support students in the classroom.”
“I was told that the past principal had bought them for the Special Education classroom,” said Charity Cheung, a math special education teacher at Deming Intermediate School, and also Co-President of the Deming chapter of the National Education Association. “No one had a clue why, and they'd never been used.”
For Cheung, the blocks represent “something admin thought was great, but the people in the classroom didn't.” She added, “Districts need to gain the input of their staff in directing how the funding will be utilized. If districts utilize the typical top down approach for deciding what to spend the funds on, it will not have as big an impact as TNM is hoping for.”
Charles Goodmacher, a spokesman for NEA-New Mexico who contributed to Think New Mexico’s report (and disclosed himself as a donor to the organization), indicated concern that the recommended approach “would lead to educators having a smaller voice within the school communities. The proposal shifts too much power away from local school boards, placing it in a state-imposed formula.”
“Think New Mexico is correct that more money needs to flow into New Mexico classrooms,” said Goodmacher, who additionally welcomed “any effort that results in a reduction of paperwork districts are required to spend time and money on.”
Deming School Board President Matt Robinson said, "I think any board member in any district would like more dollars going into the classroom," but is still studying the report's findings and recommendations.
While reducing reporting burdens for districts is part of PED’s plan for implementing the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Sweetser, reached by phone in Santa Fe, said, “Federal and state requirements are not going away.”
While there is no proposal on the table yet, she was wary of unintended consequences from a legislative approach.
“Across our entire state the districts are very wide ranging,” she said. “Are the issues that Lordsburg faces the same that Deming faces?” Sweetser worried that if districts must seek creative ways to meet requirements with reduced administration, some of that work could be transferred to teachers.
“All I want to do is help our teachers teach,” said Sweetser. “Maybe we are helping them teach by taking some of that administrative paperwork off of them.”
Two budgets for school districts
“The issue of local control is very much something that we are considering as we develop our legislation,” said Fred Nathan, TNM’s Executive Director and co-author of the report.
Think New Mexico Executive Director Fred Nathan, who co-authored the report with Kristina Fisher, hopes to have draft legislation ready for the 2018 regular session.
Noting that teachers currently have “zero control” over central administrative spending, he said, “Our reform proposal would divide each school district’s operating budget into two: a budget for classroom expenses and a budget for administrative expenses. Within each of those categories, districts would maintain complete local control over their spending.”
It would be up to communities and their representatives, however, to watchdog districts. “There will definitely need to be close monitoring of the implementation to make sure that the resources are actually being shifted to areas that impact students,” said Nathan.
He said Think New Mexico plans to have draft legislation completed in time for the 2018 session.
Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-546-2611 (ext. 2608) or firstname.lastname@example.org.