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School groups seek 4 percent raise for NM teachers

Barry Massey, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- A coalition of education groups is lobbying New Mexico's Legislature to provide 4 percent pay raises for teachers and other public school employees next year, a proposal that puts them at odds with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Salary increases — for educators as well as state workers — are expected to be a main point of contention as lawmakers craft a state budget to spend nearly $5.9 billion to finance public education and government programs next year. Education annually accounts for the largest share of spending from the state's main budget account.

In testimony to House and Senate Education committees, representatives of a broad alliance of education organizations appealed for the Legislature to help school employees recover some of their buying power lost to inflation in the past four years as pay remained stagnant or dropped in some instances as educators were required to contribute more to their pension plan.

Martinez has recommended no salary increases for educators or state workers in the coming fiscal year. The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed 1 percent raises, costing the state about $18 million for teachers and school workers statewide. The LFC recommendations typically serve as a starting point for the Legislature's decision-making on the state budget.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature hasn't approved an across-the-board pay raise for public employees since 2008 because of a downturn in the state's economy and a budget squeeze.

While commending the 1 percent pay raise proposal, Charles Bowyer of the National Education Association-New Mexico said, "We obviously don't believe it goes far enough to address the losses that school employees have had since 2008."

The education coalition includes organizations representing school boards, administrators, parents, teachers and other school employees.

Although New Mexico's economy remains weak, lawmakers and the governor expect to have about $283 million in additional revenue available for budget increases next year or to offset the cost of new tax cuts.

Bowyer asked that schools be given a high priority in the budget. He recommended restoring state education aid to what was allocated in 2008-2009 before lawmakers started cutting the budget when the economy nosedived. That would require an increase of about $149 million, or 6 percent, for schools next year. The LFC has recommended a $99 million increase, including a 1 percent pay raise, while the governor is proposing a $71 million boost for schools.


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