Facing tightening budget, Albuquerque charter school takes furlough day

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A nationally-recognized charter school in Albuquerque will be closing for the day next Friday.

Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School will have a furlough on Friday.

“It’s been the most difficult year I’ve dealt with in terms of budget cuts,” said Sam Obenshain, executive director of Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School.

Obenshain said his campus took a $66,000 operational and $38,000 transportation hit during the special legislative session. This current session, he said they’re expecting an $18,000 budget cut.

“It’s the idea of drastic times call for drastic measures,” said Obenshain.

While larger districts could tap into reserves, he said this charter school had to come up with its own solution.

“We’re going to do a furlough day of all staff which will keep our students out of school for one full day, and it will save us about $18,000,” he said.

“When we’re taking furlough days, that’s less time for children in the education system, that’s very serious,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Democrat from McKinley and San Juan Counties.

“It doesn’t surprise me that they’re going to have to take a furlough day, and I would anticipate we’re going to see that with lots of other schools throughout the state,” Lundstrom added.

A number of staff members from Cottonwood are expected to be at the Roundhouse Friday during their furlough to lobby for education funding, Obenshain said.

“PED is always ready and willing to work with schools to ensure we protect education for our kids,” the Public Education Department said in a statement.

[Senate Bill 119] was approved by the Legislature in both chambers with bipartisan support — from both Democrats and Republicans. This may tap into the excess cash balances of schools, money they had amassed over the years,” the PED said.

“By tapping into the cash balances, personnel support will remain the same, without requiring shutdowns or teacher layoffs. The money will come from school districts’ excess cash balances – dollars that have not been used,” the PED said.

The PED noted that “it reduces the excess cash balances anywhere between 1 to 2 percent. It does not affect districts that have cash balances below 3 percent. If districts come under budget, the excess dollars will go into the cash balances. In many cases, this money has been amassed for many years,” the PED said. “Bottom-line: This has no impact on classroom spending,” the statement noted.

Declining oil and gas revenues have put New Mexico’s budget in the hole.

According to the Associated Press, Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith says roughly $300 million in new revenues are needed next year to protect New Mexico’s credit rating and to avoid further cuts to public schools.

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