Socorro Independent School District board, united in their opposition, unanimously voted to join the New Mexico School Superintendent Association’s lawsuit against the 180-day school calendar rule, during their March school board meeting. The board will contribute up to $1,000 for the litigation.

“There is a law, and I don’t understand how that could be changed in rule and I think that needs to be answered,” Tara Jaramillo, school board member and state representative, said. “Everybody is watching this case; because if law can be circumvented by rule, it has bigger ramifications for everything that we do…I think that it sets a dangerous precedent to change law by rule.”

During the meeting, Tara Jaramillo shared the background information on House Bill 130, which gave school districts a requirement of hours not days; the bill was passed and signed into law and was effective as of July 1, 2023, that students were required to have 1,140 hours of learning time, offering flexibility to schools.

“Then we started hearing rumors that PED was going to change that rule. The legislature was extremely upset because it’s circumventing the will of the legislature, and we wonder about the legality of doing that,” Jaramillo said.

She said Representative Gail Armstrong proposed an amendment on the floor in the last session to be able to stop the amendment that tied it to school funding, House Bill 2, to have hours rather than days and “PED wouldn’t be funded unless they allowed for this and it overwhelmingly passed the house and the senate and then was vetoed by the governor. I think that tells you how well the legislature really supports this, in that an amendment to HB2 hadn’t passed since 1962.”

Tara Jaramillo said that employers, such as herself, have moved to 4-day weeks, and Magdalena has historically been doing a four-day week for a long time, “What does that do to local economies?”

Hendrix reported to the board that the Public Education Department is requiring that districts send them two calendars, one four-day and one five-day. He said that some superintendents talked about banding together and submitting one.

“We feel they are forcing this issue and like we just need to say ‘no’ and face the consequences. If they are going to be mad, they will be mad at everyone,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said the superintendents were having meetings every week, to help keep everyone on the same page and would be getting updates from the lawyers every Monday.
Rhiannon Crespin, Socorro Schools Executive Director of Finance and Personnel, said submitting the two required calendars is a big challenge for her because of the budget.

She said the overall budget number doesn’t change and it’s a challenge because of their school size. Bigger schools have more flexibility because “they can spread around funding,”

“It boggles my mind what we are going to do if we have to go to a five-day because there is not going to be money to do more than the 3% increase, so how are we going to be competitive with those salaries? Is it making bigger classroom sizes?” Crespin said.

Hendrix said at a recent job fair for Los Lunas schools, seven of Socorro Schools’ employees attended and that concerned him, but he didn’t blame them.

Crespin said the way the rule is written; the secretary will not approve a budget if it doesn’t meet their requirements. She feels stuck in the middle, with the board going one way and the PED going the other way.

She said May 7th is the due date for the budget and if their budget isn’t approved, they will have no money.

“If we do decide we are going to roll over and do a five day, we can’t afford it,” Dave Hicks, school board president, said. “What are we going to do? Not hire as many teachers back? Our classroom sizes are going to get bigger; it will totally diminish our quality of education. We are forced to make cuts now because we don’t have the money to cover it.”

Hendrix said there were only two, maybe three, schools that will qualify in the state for the exemptions.

“Those three that are maybe qualified are small districts, so if you have one student who bombs their test, they just completely skewed their data… in the small districts their data fluctuates so much,” Crespin said.

She said in her conversations with the PED, they don’t have answers about how she should proceed. She’s been told they will know by mid-July if they can have four-day weeks, but she has to issue contracts prior to July 1.

Pauline Jaramillo, school board member and president elect of the New Mexico School Boards Association, said a special meeting will be scheduled with School Board Association to talk about if they will join the litigation.