Rio Rancho educators are celebrating pay raises for New Mexico teachers and counselors, about the local union president is concerned about other school staff being left out.

Educators, students and legislators joined Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in late February as she signed multiple pieces of priority legislation into law with the goal of strengthening the state’s educator pipeline and building up the public education system.

Senate Bill 1 increases the minimum salaries by $10,000 for all three qualification tiers of teachers.

Coupled with 7 percent raises in the budget, New Mexico teachers will be the highest paid in the region.

Sue Cleveland

“We are grateful that the governor and legislature prioritized teacher and educator salaries during the session,” said Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland. “This will go a long way in helping Rio Rancho Public Schools recruit and retain quality educators. We currently have 145 vacancies, all positions included, across the district. This is critical in ensuring our district can continue to offer the quality education that students and families in Rio Rancho expect.”

Billie Ann Helean

As a Stapleton Elementary teacher, Billie Helean said, “I’m very grateful for the raises. I will be able to support my family more easily because of this raise, and I won’t have to worry about whether or not I can afford to buy supplies for my class.”

As the head of the Rio Rancho School Employees Union, she was worried on behalf of other groups of staff members.

“Many staff members, such as social workers, speech-language pathologists and others, have employment requirements that are equal to that of teachers,” Helean lamented. “Unfortunately, the language in Senate Bill 1 included only teachers and counselors. This is a problem we hope to at least partially remedy when we enter negotiations with the district. Additionally, our hourly staff need to be assured a living wage well past next year. Our hope is that the $15 per hour minimum will be made permanent during the next legislative session.”

There were other causes for glee from those “in the trenches”:

  • House Bill 73 shortens the amount of time teachers must wait to return to the classroom after retirement, aiming to address the state’s teacher shortage.
  • HB 13 increases the stipend for resident teachers, provides stipends for mentor teachers involved in the teacher residency program and requires teachers who go through the program to work in the same district for three years. It’s meant to provide a more stable base of educators in rural areas.
  • Senate Bill 36 increases employer contributions to the educational retirement fund to keep the fund solvent and decreases teacher contributions, allowing teachers to take more money home.
  • Joshua Hernandez

    HB 57 allows the state Public Education Department to use data reported in fiscal year 2020 instead of this fiscal year to calculate the transportation distributions for next fiscal year. It’s a one-time fix to hold the transportation formula harmless due to the pandemic. Rio Rancho Public Schools is $1 million in the red for transportation this school year.

  • HB 119 provides for an additional state distribution for school districts levying the Public School Capital Improvements Tax, commonly referred to as “SB-9” or the “two-mill levy.”
  • HB 43 authorizes the New Mexico Finance Authority to make loans to charter schools for renovation, construction, purchase or expansion of their facilities or to pay off charter school lease-purchase agreements through a new Charter School Facility Revolving Fund.

Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, was particularly happy with the passage of HB 43, of which he was a co-sponsor.

“With the signing of HB 43 … I am encouraged for the future of charter schools,” he said. “This bill will give these schools a realistic path to build and expand their facilities to continue to build a positive beginning for our children’s futures.”