Questa school district mulls budget


The Questa Independent Schools Board Tuesday (Jan. 23) discussed an expected cash shortfall in the district's current operating budget that does not meet state requirements.

According to school officials, the approximate cash balances for the district total around $122,000 while the state requires at least $200,000 for the district to operate. The district's operational budget is $4.5 million.

"I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel," said board president Daryl Ortega during the meeting. "There's going to be cuts somewhere. Where, I don't know."

The board met with the community in November and December to discuss possible severe cuts to preserve cash balances in the school's budget.

During the Jan. 23 meeting, which less than 10 community members attended, board members discussed the district's expenditures from small item purchases, such as a bed in the teacherage, to big-purchase items and expenses, such as student travel. Those expenses prompted board member Tammy Jaramillo to make a motion to spend only what is essential for the district to operate.

Items in Questa's 2017-2018 operating budget, such as $86,324 for student travel, $58,500 in athletics department salaries or the $66,490 budgeted for building heating, could be subject to some of the cuts to come. Also discussed is the closure or restructuring of the K-6 Rio Costilla Southwest Learning Academy, which Ortega questioned during the meeting. Costilla and Questa High School have been graded a B by the New Mexico Public Education Department, the district's highest-scoring schools.

Despite the issues surrounding the schools, Ortega assured the audience that the board is working for a better future for the students.

"I feel that every board member here is for the children," Ortega said.

Questa Independent Schools began the year in a difficult position after some staff members retired and left the district, prompting the administration to act quickly to fill needed positions around the district.

"These were emergencies," said Superintendent Davie Albert during the meeting. "We did not ask a person to resign. These were voluntary resignations."

After a great deal of moving positions to fill needs, the district is looking for a middle school math and English teacher as well as a district music teacher.

Athletics has been a subject of controversy in the past meetings on possible budget cuts even prompting some coaches to offer to volunteer their time to keep the students on the fields, according to Albert.

Ortega called for a motion during the meeting to have district officials meet with the PED in the near future to see if the district would, in fact, be able to operate independently despite being $78,000 short of the PED's requirements in cash balances.