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Caton: ‘They need to give us

the money back they took from us’

“Success Maker” award recipient Lydia Bustamante is joined by, from left, Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton and award sponsors Tate Branch of Tate Branch Auto Group and Jason Ebert, TBAG employee. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

During his legislative update Tuesday to the Artesia Public Schools Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton spoke strongly about the State of New Mexico’s sweeping of more than $40 million from the state’s public schools last year in order to balance its budget, stating the schools took care of their finances but could ultimately be punished because the state did not do the same.

Caton reported that regarding Gov. Susana Martinez’s recommendation to give a 2-percent raise to teachers and a 1-percent raise to all other school employees, “the caveat to that is that the governor and the Public Education Department want to tie $7 million to pay for performance as well, and the only way for teachers to get that is to have an exemplary rate on their evaluation.”

“The Legislative Finance Committee’s proposal, on the other hand, is a 1.5-percent increase across the board for all school employees,” Caton said. “Rep. Jim Townsend is sponsoring HB63 to help pay back the cash sweeps that were taken from schools last year.”

Those “cash sweeps,” in the amount of $40.8 million, were taken by the State of New Mexico from all schools in the state carrying a cash balance above 5 percent in order for the state to balance last year’s budget. The APS’ portion of that was $625,657.29.

“We’re also going to lose training and experience money in the amount of $230,000,” Caton said. “All total, Artesia Public Schools lose $1.25 million for Fiscal Year 2017-18. It’s not right, it’s not fair; that’s money they are taking from our kids. We have districts that currently don’t have cash balances of even 3 percent; they need to give us the money back they took from us.

“We are going to go from a 14-percent cash balance to a 5-percent cash balance in two years’ time, when we managed our budget and we took care of business.”

In other business Tuesday, Caton accepted the Board of Education’s contract offer for another year at the helm of the APS. Caton will be serving his seventh year as superintendent when the new contract year begins July 1.

Board of Education President Lowell M. Irby announced the Two-Mill Levy vote will be held Feb. 6.

The board is asking the voters to approve the mill levy for the following capital improvements in the district:

• erecting, remodeling, making additions to, providing equipment for, and furnishing school buildings;

• maintenance of public school buildings or public school grounds;

• purchasing activity vehicles for transporting students to extracurricular school activities;

• purchasing computer software and hardware for student use in public school classrooms;

• and purchasing and installing education technology.

The mill levy does not increase taxes. It continues taxes at the current rate, which has been in effect for more than 30 years. Mill levy dollars are used exclusively by the school district for the benefit of the district’s programs and students.

The board also approved the consent agenda and the business manager’s report Tuesday with no changes.

Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Student Services John Ross Null presented the board with the 2018-19 draft calendar for the APS, noting the first day of school will be Aug. 13 and the last day will be May 24, 2019, with 90 days per semester.

Null then sought the board’s approval to amend the attendance policy for the APS to clarify the definition of “no credit status,” which pertains to students who are placed on that status when they have received their 11th unexcused absence in a particular class period.

“Previously, if a student was placed on no credit status, it did not hurt their grade point average; it did not help it, but it also did not count the same as having an F in that class,” said Null. “We are now making the recommendation that a grade of ‘no credit’ be the same as an F when factored into a student’s GPA.”

The board approved the amendment.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Thad Phipps received the board’s approval to accept a proposal for HVAC replacement and renovations at Yucca Elementary School in the amount of $491,631.50, to be done during Sspring Break. Phipps also received the board’s approval to strip and refinish both the main and south-side courts at Bulldog Pit through a CES contract in the amount of $39,567.42.

Caton announced the resignations of Ashley Luna, custodian at Yeso; Maria Mading, custodian at Grand Heights Early Childhood Center; and Jeff Willingham, P.E. teacher at Yeso and Artesia High School football coach; along with the employment of Rene Crenshaw as P.E. teacher at Yeso and Linda Williams as a custodian at Park Junior High School.

Caton also presented the Tate Branch “Success Maker” Award for December 2017 to Lydia Bustamante, bilingual education teacher at Yeso Elementary School.

Bustamante was nominated for the award by Sammy Natera, one of her fifth-grade students. Natera wrote, “Thank you for teaching me Spanish and letting me have fun and learn. I enjoy going. I am happy for Spanish class, it’s fun and I feel way happy that you have taught me a lot of Spanish. I’m going to miss that class because next year I go to Zia so I won’t be in that class, but I enjoyed third through fifth grade. Thank you, Ms. Bustamante.”

“Every time those kids walk in her room, they are so happy to be there,” said Liz Ironmonger, Yeso principal. “They have a great time while they are learning, and that is all you can ask for.”

The next regularly-scheduled board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, in the Lowell M. Irby Board Room at the Administration Building.