Aug. 13—With the start of classes just days away, Santa Fe Public Schools is still looking to hire for dozens of vacancies.
At a school board meeting Thursday night, Robin
Noble, new executive director for human resources, said
the district technically has
119 vacancies, but 48 new hires are being onboarded to plug those positions, leaving 71 remaining.
These include 66 vacant teaching and education assistant jobs, according to data from the district’s human resources office. Among them are 19 secondary teachers, 18 elementary teachers, 13 regular education assistants and 16 special education assistants, known as education behavioral health associates.
Noble said as of Thursday the district was onboarding transportation employees but still had four openings. The district is also onboarding
11 student nutrition employees, with three spots remaining.
With a pool of 144 substitutes currently signed up for the 2022-2023 school year, Noble expressed hope that every classroom will have a teacher when schools starts Wednesday.
Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said three or four recently retired teachers are returning under a new rule that allows them to come back after 90 days without forgoing retirement benefits.
District administrators noted Thursday the number of vacancies was an improvement compared to recent years.
In September 2021, former human resources Director Howard Oechsner — now senior assistant to the superintendent — told The New Mexican the district was dealing with about 120 teacher vacancies or absences each day.
During Thursday’s meeting, board member Carmen Gonzales said the hiring process had slowed during the pandemic and asked Noble if it is moving more quickly now.
“We certainly tried,” Noble said. “It seems like it’s going faster.”
Noble said her department now has a rule to respond to email and phone queries within 24 hours. She suggested the district start the hiring process further ahead of the school year to speed things up next year.
Noble said many of the vacancies are in special education, which according to US Department of Education teacher shortage data, is a common problem nationwide. Other shortage areas in New Mexico include middle and high school math teachers, and bilingual education teachers at all levels for students who speak English as a second language, the federal data shows.
Gale Hanson, a behavioral health associate at Santa Fe High School, spoke during the public comment period at Thursday’s meeting about how low pay and the high demands of her job were making her work in special education particularly difficult.
Hanson complained that in recent years the district had eliminated a one-on-one approach in special-education classrooms, which places each associate with a single high-needs student. Now, Hanson said, they are often expected to supervise multiple students at once.
“This is like asking someone to drive and text at the same time,” she said.
In an email Friday, district spokesman Cody Dynarski said Santa Fe Public Schools had not discontinued the practice of pairing some high-needs students with individual education assistants, but he said it only happens when it is listed in a student’s individualized education plan.
New Santa Fe Public Schools pay schedules show behavioral health associates like Hanson make from $16.50 to $27.08 per hour, depending on experience and education. At most, they can expect to make $34,116.38 annually, based on a 180-day contract at six hours and 45 minutes of work per day.
“It’s obvious to me I could make more money being a bus driver, a safety aide or even a cafeteria worker,” Hanson said. “I feel we are the pillars of support for the classroom with an undesignated amount of responsibilities.”
Later in the meeting, Chavez suggested hiring more associates in order to ease the burden on those already working at the district. The district is offering hiring bonuses to people specifically applying for the roles, though advertisements on the district’s social media don’t list the bonus amount.
“Once we are fully staffed, then we don’t have to ask staff to take on additional responsibilities,” Chavez said. “To me, that’s my first goal.”
Chavez also proposed working on increasing salaries for assistants in the future.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board appointed former Secretary Sarah Bose as vice president. Board member Sascha Anderson took her place as secretary. The changes come following the resignation of Rudy Garcia, who was vice president and District 4 representative.
Roman “Tiger” Abeyta,
who had the school board
recently appointed to represent
District 4 in Garcia’s place, was sworn in Thursday.
The board also passed a resolution pushing gun safety during the 2023 legislative session. The resolution calls for the creation of an office of gun violence prevention in New Mexico, and for a child access prevention law that would raise the age of purchase for certain rifles and place a ban on assault-style weapons. The resolution also requests Chavez to send a letter to parents reminding them of secure gun storage rules.
Reasons for the resolution, according to the document, included the deaths of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May and statistics showing increased firearm deaths among children nationwide during the pandemic.
“The big problem is guns,” Anderson said. “We cannot ask our schools to do any more than they’re already doing to keep our students safe or to address the greater problems of society.”