- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Teachers are in line for a possible $2,000 increase in their base salaries under a $6 billion spending plan approved by the Legislature, but there’s some uncertainty over the raise.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez could veto a budget provision intended to make sure local districts implement the higher salaries.

An educational union leader said Friday he hoped Martinez accepts the Legislature’s directive over teacher pay.

Martinez has indicated that she’ll likely sign the budget but may use her line-item veto powers to cut some proposed spending.

The governor has until March 12 to decide whether to sign or veto legislation passed by lawmakers. Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said no decisions have been made on possible line-item vetoes in the budget.

The governor vetoed budget language last year that’s similar to what the Democratic-controlled Legislature included this session on pay raises for educators.

Lawmakers approved about $70 million for compensation for public school workers in the latest budget proposal. That’s enough for local districts to provide an average 3 percent pay raises for all school employees and boost minimum teacher salaries by $2,000.

The budget directs the secretary of the Public Education Department to ensure that schools provide the higher pay. The agency is to do that as part of a yearly review of budgets submitted by New Mexico’s 89 school districts.

“All of that has to be enforced through the budget review process. If it’s not, then it’s totally discretionary whether it happens or not,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association New Mexico.

Lawmakers made it next to impossible for the governor to veto money for teacher pay raises, however.

Money for compensation is part of a $2.5 billion lump sum that’s distributed to districts through the state’s school funding formula. However, local districts decide how to spend money that flows through the funding formula. That’s why lawmakers added a salary directive in the budget.

The governor has the option of vetoing the entire $2.5 billion for school operations, but she couldn’t unilaterally reduce it by a specific amount to eliminate only money for pay raises.

If the governor vetoed the budget language on salaries, the money for raises would remain. But it would be left to local school districts to decide how much should go for pay increases, according to Bowyer. He said collective bargaining by unions and local schools also will govern salaries. Not all districts have union contracts, however.

State law requires that entry-level teachers be paid at least $30,000 for a standard nine and one-half month contract. A “level two” teacher must be paid $40,000 and the most experienced teachers receive $50,000.

A bill died in the legislative session that would have changed the law to phase in $10,000 salary increases over five years. The money in the budget was to cover the first installment of those teacher raises, said Rep. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the House Education Committee.

She plans to push again next year for a change in law to require the higher salaries - $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000 by 2018-2019.

But Stewart said she’s confident teachers will get $2,000 increases in the coming school year because of the budget money.

“I think it’s clear to the districts that we’re giving them money to have the minimums at $32,000, $42,000 and $52,000,” she said.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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