Rio Rancho Public Schools has set the calendar for the 2023-24 school year after the school board approved some changes to the calendar from last year at Monday’s meeting.

RRPS will start the new school year on Aug. 3, and there will be no more early release on Wednesdays or half-day Extended Learning Time Program days. Virtual learning days are also gone, but students will have expanded learning days for social, emotional or academic interventions.

The actual start time of the school day is still being discussed by a Start Time Committee, and RRPS has sent an email with options to parents.

While the school board approved the calendar, it still must be negotiated with Rio Rancho School Employees’ Union.

Billie Helean, a first-grade teacher at Ernest Stapleton Elementary School, is the president of the union

“I love doing this work because I consider myself a very strong advocate for the staff in Rio Rancho public schools,” Helean said. “Ultimately, our mission is to ensure that staff are happy, because if you have happy staff, you have happy kids. Our ultimate purpose is to make sure that kids are getting everything they need when they’re at school.”

Helean said the negotiations with the district began Thursday.

RRSEU President Billie Helean teaches first grade at Ernest Stapleton Elementary. (Gary Herron / Observer)

“Something that’s really of note right now is the new school calendar. That got passed at the board meeting on Monday,” Helean said. “A lot of our members are concerned because they don’t want this to impact their planning time and things that they have to do at school. And so as the union, we’re beholden to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for our members.”

The union will negotiate the number of hours teachers work per day, how many days they work in a year and how much planning time they get each day. The district can’t add or remove days from the school calendar or the total hours in the school day without a negotiated agreement with the union.

House Bill 4, which was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on March 30, will bring sweeping changes coming to New Mexico elections. It also impacts RRPS and RRSEU.

“The state passed a law that Election Day is a state holiday. So because it’s a state holiday schools, all schools will be closed. They’re not working,” Helean said. “So they’ve had to add a date at the beginning of the year to keep the calendar at 190 days, but they have to adjust things to make sure that it fits the 190 days to negotiated agreement.”

Helean, who has been president of the union since May 2019, said she doesn’t expect much conflict for these negotiations.

“One of the nice strengths that we have as a union is that we worked really, really well with the district,” Helean said. “And because we’ve developed this really great relationship with them, we are able to go to the table and find solutions that work together rather than being very contentious. We’re actually looking forward to negotiating with the district because it’s a much more pleasant experience.”The current negotiated agreement between the union and the district was signed on May 9 last year. It is being renegotiated now because of legislation that passed that includes a budget that authorizes average 6% pay raises for educators and state workers and boosting the minimum wage of teaching assistants from $12,000 to $25,000 a year.

“Because of the money passed at the Legislature and other things, we do need to meet now because if we don’t meet now, then they don’t get the raise,” Helean said. “So we need to make sure that we do have the negotiations again, but it should be pretty, pretty easy.”