Governor pitched pay hike, bonuses for teachers

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FARMINGTON — Local education leaders are cautiously optimistic about Gov. Susana Martinez’s plans to increase school funding — particularly for teacher raises — noting it’s too soon to tell what the extra cash would do for local teachers.

“It’s just too early in the session to know how it’s all going to shake out,” Randy Bondow, chief financial officer for Farmington Municipal School District, said on Friday.

On Jan. 16 in her final State of the State address, Martinez said the state should prioritize education going into 2018, calling for teacher raises, caps on administrative expenses, more opportunities to recruit former professionals as teachers and further efforts to close achievement gaps throughout the state.

Martinez said the state should give all teachers a 2-percent raise in salary, and “for those who earn an exemplary rating, we should step up and give them a $5,000 bonus,” according to a video of the speech posted by the New Mexico Political Report.

In a letter to the press, Public Education Department Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said the FY18 budget proposed by Martinez and the PED includes a $70 million increase for public school support.

“First and foremost, we believe that more than half of the increase should find its way into the pockets of those who matter most for student outcomes: our teachers,” Ruszkowski said, adding that “New Mexico has raised expectations and elevated the teaching profession over the past five years. … The time is now to increase teacher salaries across the board by 2 percent.”

Bondow said it’s too early to tell whether the increases will come through — the Legislature will spend the next several weeks combing over the budget — and other factors could change the impact of the proposed teacher raises.

“Anything helps, I’m sure, on the paycheck, but until we get the full story with medical premiums and what they’re going to be, it’s kind of hard to tell if it’s going to help them much,” Bandow said.

The rate teachers pay for medical insurance can change — it has increased more than 8 percent over the past two years, according to Bondow. The rates, which are offered through the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority, will be released this spring.

“Paychecks have been eroded quite a bit over last few years just with medical increases and increases in the amount that’s deducted for the pension,” Bondow said, adding that “we don’t know how much (medical insurance is) going to be and if it’s going to be covered. From what I see in the governor’s recommendation is $3.5 million for insurance for schools, but I have no idea if that’s enough money to cover all the school districts or not.”

Bondow said the last time there was a similar teacher raise was in the 2014-15 fiscal year when salaries were increased by 3 percent.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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