PED sends back Belen FY budget

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The New Mexico Public Education Department rejected the Belen Consolidated Schools' 2012-13 proposed operating budget on Tuesday.

The $30 million proposed budget was kicked back to the district for revisions due to a proposed 1 percent salary increase.

Board of Education President R. Sam Chavez announced NMPED's decision at the board's meeting Tuesday, because, he said, it's important employees know what the district is faced with.

"The state, PED, will not allow this board to give a 1 percent raise to employees, and that is the entire reason why the state is rejecting our budget," Chavez said.

Superintendent Ron Marquez, Director of Business and Finance George Perea and finance committee members will meet with NMPED representatives on Friday, June 1, to review the proposed budget. It will be resubmitted to the state before the NMPED meeting without the increase, Perea said.

Leslie A. Lujan, NMPED's executive budget analyst, sent an e-mail Tuesday afternoon, before the school board meeting, to Marquez and Perea, stating the budget was being returned to the district for revisions.

"The PED, at this time, will not approve a budget for the district which includes salaries and benefits with growth not mandated by statute," Lujan's email states.

Such mandates could include the establishment of a minimum salary for teachers based on licensure level or the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board contribution shift to employees, the email states.

The email goes on to explain that this procedure is in place for districts with outstanding financial issues.

For Belen, this is in reference to the delinquent submission of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 audits, which resulted in the district being mandated to submit monthly financial reports instead of quarterly reports to NMPED, beginning in March 2011.

"Though the district is current with its reporting, the PED continues to note concerns with the reporting of cash," Lujan states.

Without audit reports, the state can't verify the projected cash flow into the district, which the budget is based on, Perea said.

However, the 2009-10 audit was approved by the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor and submitted to NMPED in April, Perea said. He estimates the 2010-11 audit will be completed in June.

The district fell behind in submitting financial reports during an administrative change of the superintendent and business and finance director and switch to a new accounting software.

Perea said he's been notifying NMPED on a regular basis of the district's financial progress.

"I talked with her this morning … She knows that this superintendent, school board and district are trying to get caught up with everything," Perea said.

NMPED also rejected the budget due to confusion over the funding source used for the salary increases.

Gov. Susana Martinez appropriated additional funds toward instructional improvements to school districts for 2012-13.

"We're trying to prove to (NMPED) that (the salary increase) isn't coming out of that increase," Chavez said.

Funds used for the salary increase came from 18 short-term teacher contracts that weren't renewed, Perea said.

Since the budget was rejected, the district will need to reopen contract negotiations with the National Education Association's Belen chapter and Belen Federation of School Employees.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.