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Closure tied to loss of state money

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By David Giuliani

The head of the Rancho Valmora treatment center near Watrous say it’s closing because of a state decision on funding for such services — a change supported by a state lawmaker who represents that area.

The closure means the loss of 65 jobs, said Bill McKay, president of Social Learning Environments, which runs Rancho Valmora and similar centers in Fort Davis, Texas, and Missoula, Mont. Rancho Valmora was Mora County’s largest employer, he said.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature approved a bill that would stop providing subsidies to out-of-state students at residential treatment centers for troubled teens, including Rancho Valmora.

More than 90 percent of Rancho Valmora’s 40 clients come from out of state, and the loss in funding meant a decrease of $800,000 to $1 million a year for Rancho Valmora’s students, McKay said.

The subsidy for the clients was a mix of state and federal funds, McKay said. The funds come through the state Public Education Department.

The bill was supported by state Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocaté, a member of the House Education Committee.

McKay said he didn’t want to point the finger at Garcia. “I’m not saying he’s a bad guy. I don’t think he had a concept of the impact the bill would have,” McKay said.

He said Rancho Valmora, which started in 1994, didn’t have many New Mexicans at the center because of the approach of managed health-care companies that contract with the state Medicaid program.

“The managed care companies in New Mexico don’t like residential treatment, and they don’t want to pay for it,” he said.

McKay said he didn’t receive notice about the change in funding until late May.

Garcia said he didn’t know the finances of Ranch Valmora and what proportion of its clients came from out of state. He said the state is imposing requirements on how residential treatment should be funded.

“We can’t expect taxpayers to pay for kids across the country. We’re not pulling funds from Rancho Valmora. They have to meet requirements,” Garcia said.

Asked if the state Public Education Department should have informed him about the impact of the bill on his district, Garcia said it’s always nice to have more information when making a decision but that he didn’t want to blame the state agency.

Garcia said he has spoken with McKay to explore possible ways to keep Rancho Valmora in operation and possibly bring in more New Mexicans.

“We’ll see if there are opportunities they can take advantage of,” the lawmaker said. “Any time you lose jobs it’s a blow.”

Don Moya, deputy secretary of the Public Education Department, said the issue of funding residential treatment centers came during a study of the state’s funding formula for schools.

He said nothing in his department’s analysis of the bill indicated that Rancho Valmora would be hurt.