NM school districts asked to pay back funding

June 23, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — School districts around New Mexico are now being asked to pay back money they received due to an accounting error.

The state Public Education Department acknowledged in May that the funding errors affected about 50 districts. At the time, the department said those that were overpaid would not have to return the money.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera sent an email Wednesday to the Santa Fe school district and others that said state law required them to refund the money, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported ( ).

Under the [auth] state’s demands, Santa Fe would have to pay $230,000, or close to $20,000 a month over the course of a year.

Superintendent Joel Boyd said the district might propose paying it back over five years.

School district leaders have said the error has caused problems.

“If we can’t trust (the department), it makes it very difficult to plan our budget,” Boyd said. “And what assurance do we have that this issue will not occur again? The carelessness by which this error was created should bring about significant concern for anyone who cares about our public schools. A careless clerical error has cost millions of dollars across the state to different communities.”

Magdalena Superintendent Mike Chambers discovered the error. He said the department shorted his district by about $40,430, which led to cuts in tutoring opportunities for children.

Rio Rancho Public Schools received about $970,000 in excess funding. Spokeswoman Kim Vesely said that’s about 1 percent of the district’s operational budget. The district initially believed it would not have to pay that money back, she added.

Deputy Education Secretary Paul Aguilar has said the error was due to an alphabetical listing problem. About 25 districts and charter schools were shorted by a total of about $830,000, while another 25 or so received a total of about $2.5 million too much.

Skandera also informed districts this week that the department will not raise the value by $15 of the school-funding unit. It will remain at $3,673.54.

The unit value helps determine how much money each district gets in state funding. Students are assigned different numbers of units depending on things such as grade level and special needs.

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