January 27, 2016

Bill to raise teacher salaries on hold

The Senate Education Committee agreed to hold off on taking any action on a bill that would increase wages for New Mexico teachers.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would increase minimum salaries for teachers by $2,000 each year for about four years. After inconsistencies in the analysis of the bill, Stewart agreed to make some changes and report back later this week.classroom

Stewart told the panel that while she would discuss the nature of the bill, she was uncomfortable with some analysis done by the Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC). She said she submitted her bill to the LESC last month and was only recently informed of a large discrepancy in how much the state would be on the hook for teacher and principal raises.

Stewart told the Education Committee that the analysis from LESC showed a much higher cost than that from the Legislative Finance Committee.

“I am no longer confident in any of these numbers,” Stewart said.

Stewart said she planned on making an amendment to her bill after the discrepancy over state cost is cleared up.

A retired educator and long time supporter of teacher raises, Stewart told the committee that increasing teacher pay will help fill vacant positions and prevent more teachers from leaving New Mexico.

“It’s not really fair to think that everything is fine in our schools when we are losing our teachers,” Stewart said.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, expressed concerns that by passing Stewart’s bill the legislature would be mandating raises without properly funding local school districts.

“We’re saying to the school districts, ‘This is what you will pay, no less,’” Brandy said. “Yet we’re not giving them the money to do it.”

Stewart told Brandt she was not comfortable with passing her bill until it has proper funding.

Brandt went on to say that legislators could use other areas like funding transportation and instructional materials to help schools districts comply with state mandates.

“I hope we can work on some of these things together,” Brandt said.

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, also a retired educator, said New Mexico needs to work out how to increase state revenues before earmarking money to salary increases.

“We are in a world of hurt in terms of funding,” Kernan said.

She added that when compared to teachers in Midland, Texas—across the state line from her Senate district—New Mexico teachers have it better when it comes to long-term pay increases and retirement benefits.

“It’s really important to understand we really aren’t that far off,” Kernan said.

Stewart responded that retirement pay is based on the working salary.

“If you’ve got a crappy salary, you’ve got a crappy retirement,” she said.

Stewart initially asked the committee to table her proposal, but Brandt said it would not be fair to Stewart if the committee had to go through the process of taking the bill off the table. Instead, Brandt said, it would be better suited to hold off on hearing the bill until Stewart can work out the funding discrepancies. The committee agreed to let Stewart rework her bill and come back as early as Friday.