Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Ralph Ramos says the district remains dedicated to LCPS employees, amid continued calls from unions and personal appeals from educators to increase staff compensation.
“I believe that all our employees deserve high, high raises,” Ramos said. “Sustainability is my goal. I don't want to have to lay off any teachers or employees down the road, but also to be fair, you know, as we continue hopefully to bargain in mediation.”
Between 2017 and 2021, the average rate of pay for educators rose a little over 16% in New Mexico. For LCPS that number was significantly lower, increasing at a rate around 10%. Denise Sheehan, the president of the Las Cruces chapter of the National Education Association, says the district is lagging behind the rest of the state.
“We recently found that over the last five years the average teacher salary statewide, and in other large school districts, has increased significantly faster than Las Cruces,” Sheehan said. “Las Cruces is lagging in paying salary increases.”
Sheehan pointed to the district’s reserves as one way to help increase staff pay. In 2021, the district spent almost 13% less than the original budget allocation, ending with an approximate $3 million surplus.
“The district carries over millions each year, arguing that it needs to use that money to cover expenditures, yet it has not spent that money,” Sheehan said. “It simply grows and grows. Las Cruces has increased its cash carryover by more than 200% since 2017. This increase is not typical.”
But Gabe Jacquez, the LCPS Deputy Superintendent for Operations and Leadership, says the use of reserve funds for payroll expenses isn’t sustainable, noting some of the money can go toward extra hour agreements and stipend payments for additional work.
“Reserves should not be used for satisfying recurring expenses like payroll,” Jacquez said. “The funds and reserves are not the type of funds that are received by the district each year. If these funds are used to cover payroll, what happens when the reserves run out?”
For educators like Gail Wheeler, an English teacher at Centennial High School, a raise in pay means more than an opportunity for greater financial security—it’s also a chance to help students most in need. She spoke about the efforts of Centennial educators who have worked to maintain a food pantry within the high school.
“That food bank is pretty much financed by the teachers, who also supply art supplies for the children...so if you really want to help students, the one thing that we can agree on, put the money in the hands of the teachers, and it will inevitably end up benefiting the students,” Wheeler said.
NEA-Las Cruces President Denise Sheehan says the district must support LCPS students by investing in staff.
“We need to invest in the future of our students by investing in our staff,” Sheehan said. “We need to retain our educators and attract new educators to the district. This will help reduce class sizes, allow for planning time and allow educators to focus on what they do best.”