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NEA-Las Cruces Announces Tentative Contract Agreement With Las Cruces Public Schools For Higher Pay

The Las Cruces chapter of the National Education Association has announced via press release that they have reached a tentative contract agreement with Las Cruces Public Schools. All certified staff will receive a 3.5% raise upon ratification. A $1,800 planning stipend has also been agreed upon and will be split between the fall and spring semesters.

In a written statement, NEA-Las Cruces President Denise Sheehan said the agreement was nine months in the making and praised educators for their continued devotion in the classroom throughout not only the bargaining process but the entire pandemic. During a recent interview with KRWG, Sheehan spoke out about the strain on educators.

“Our educators are having to take on other jobs, and that's taking away from their planning time, their preparation, their family time, which is most, most important,” Sheehan said. “You know, our educators should be focused on just that, which is teaching our students, and it's very hard to do that when you're having to focus on the other stuff outside of your job.”

Centennial High School English Teacher Gail Wheeler is one educator who has been speaking out about the financial burden many LCPS staff members are facing. In total, Wheeler has spent approximately two decades working as an educator for LCPS, witnessing the ongoing sacrifices of district employees and making some herself.

“I’m willing to be one of the last people to get a raise, but that doesn’t mean that I’m still not going out and spending my money,” Wheeler said. “If I want colored paper, I have to go buy the colored paper that I want. I have to go buy the art supplies that I really want. And if I made more money, there again, that money would go back into my classroom. That's true with almost all teachers. Even the ones that are working second jobs are still also buying food that they have in their classroom in case a kid is hungry.”

According to Sheehan, educators within the district are currently making around $54,000 annually. NEA-Las Cruces says the average rate of pay for educators in the district rose almost 10.5% between 2017-2021. It’s lower than the statewide average for the same time period, which increased at a rate of around 16%.

Under further scrutiny during the bargaining process—the district ended fiscal year 2021 with a 3-million-dollar surplus. While the district is focused on fostering sustainable growth, LCPS Deputy Superintendent Gabe Jacquez, the chief negotiations officer for the district, says LCPS has been listening to employee concerns throughout negotiations.

“We definitely listen,” Jacquez said. “We don't always agree and that's part of bargaining. But one thing I think we all agree on, and I won't speak for them and can't, but is that it's all about preparing our future generations of students and whatever we need to do to get to that point, we definitely want to do that. Unfortunately, as in any other place, we have the resources that we have, and it's taking those resources and responsibly putting them into place.”

One light for both district and union leaders alike—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her intent to pursue a 7% raise for all New Mexico education personnel.

That’s good news for LCPS amid concerns over educator shortages. Sheehan says she’s seen an increase in the number of district employees resigning or retiring mid-school year. It’s an issue she says is compounded by low wages.

“Usually you see a high number at the end of a semester when people are eligible,” Sheehan said. “We are definitely in a crisis. We're not able to fill positions that we have open in all levels.”

Sheehan stressed that no matter if educator shortages increase, LCPS educators will continue to give their all in the classroom and that fair compensation is necessary to reward all district staff for their work.

“It's just important that the community knows that our teachers are trying their very best and that we need to definitely compensate for the work that they're doing—tremendous amount of work,” Sheehan said.

More information on the tentative agreement is expected to be given during the LCPS Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Madison Staten was a Multimedia Reporter for KRWG Public Media from 2020-2022.