The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education, by a 5-0 vote, approved the preliminary budget for the 2021-22 school year at its May 10 meeting.
As usual, the bulk of the more than $171 million budget has its projected expenditures taken up by salaries. It includes a 1.5 percent raise — about $1.8 million right there — for the district’s 2,400 full-time teachers, mandated by the 2021 state legislature.
Prior to the board meeting, the district’s finance committee, which consists of the five school board members, listened as Chief Operations Officer Mike Baker gave a quick outline of the budget, which includes almost $135 million in salaries and programs.
“We are actually in very good financial shape,” said Arlene Manzanares, the executive director of finance.
Increases in this year’s budget, besides the teacher raises, said Baker, were:
• About $1 million, a 1 percent increase, paid into the Educational Retirement Board;
• About $575,000, another 6 percent, for medical premiums; and
• Slightly less than $1 million for the purchase of what will be the district’s new Student Support Services building, on the southwest corner of NM 528 and Northern Boulevard. The building also required another $2.5 million in upgrades, which included a roof replacement, and two teachers, two education assistants and a few other personnel to staff it.
Another new expenditure will be for full-time virtual learning, originally mandated by the PED, which later decided against that idea because it would probably have to fund it for 89 districts.
Wanting to stay ahead of the curve and be ready for the future, RRPS had already approved an elementary virtual-only school, the SpaRRk Academy headquartered at Joe Harris Elementary, and is using Cyber Academy as the HQ for virtual secondary students.
Although original estimates of student enrollment were more than 600, Baker said, as of now, there will be 164 virtual-only elementary students and 198 secondary virtual-only students. Virtual-only teachers and counselors will be needed for both, and Baker said RRPS will spend $578,000 out of its operational budget, with about $1.7 million headed to the district from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.
Board member Wynne Coleman had a handful of questions about the budget, starting with $25,000 targeted to Research & Polling for a pending re-districting project. Superintendent Sue Cleveland said re-districting is always mandatory following a U.S. Census, although Baker said he was unsure if that money will be used.
Coleman also questioned the virtual-only figures, which weren’t complete, wondering if the money flowing into the district through the equalization formula for students would justify the expenses of running the two virtual-only schools.
“We haven’t done that analysis … (but it looks to) pretty much be a wash,” Baker said.
Cleveland was concerned about the ramifications of losing possibly close to 400 students by the time the next school year starts if that option isn’t available.
“We felt like we needed to provide the service,” she said. “I don’t think that we’re ever going back to the way life was before (the pandemic). … I think that virtual education will remain.”
Lastly, Coleman was concerned about seeing budget increases for students’ behavioral health, wanting to see what’s being done to “beef up” these services, “because we know how important the emotional wellbeing of our students are, especially with the pandemic,” she said.
Baker said the Student Support Services building will be the place to address those needs, and that he would put a report together to assuage Coleman’s concerns.
The board also:
• Thanked the Schumann Foundations for its $10,000 check, which helps support Naviance program funding, which in turn helps students explore specific careers as well as enhances college and career readiness;
• Commended retiring Safety and Security Director Mike Padilla, saying goodbye to RRPS after spending the last 16 years with the district, and ending a four-decade career in law enforcement. “You can’t find a more reliable, dedicated individual … with impeccable integrity,” lauded Baker, who previously worked with Padilla with Rio Rancho Police Department;
• Thanked Rio Rancho High School Class of 2006 grad Zahra Marwan for her generous offer of a $1,000 scholarship for a deserving RRPS upperclassman; it turned out, there were two: Isabella Sanchez of Cleveland High School and Lilyana Roberto of RRHS, who split the award.
The board’s next scheduled meeting, at which the final budget is expected to receive approval after the state’s Public Education Department has reviewed it, will be at 5:30 p.m. June 14.