School funding error leaves districts short

-A A +A

West schools shorted $80,296; state to reimburse

The Associated Press

A problem with a computer form’s alphabetical listing caused dozens of New Mexico school districts and charter schools to get too much state funding, while others didn’t get enough.

The state Public Education Department’s error resulted in 25 districts and charters being shorted a total of roughly $830,000, while 26 others got more than $2.5 million too much, television station KRQE reported.

The department said it is reimbursing the districts and charters the money they’re owed. And it said the overpaid ones won’t have to return any money.

“We take responsibility for it,” said Paul Aguilar, the department’s deputy secretary. “It is our error.”

The error involved funding for so-called “at-risk” students — those who live in poverty, don’t speak English or who drop in and out of school.

The problem occurred when the West Las Vegas district was mistakenly listed as “Las Vegas West.”

The result was that funding amounts for districts and charters in the bottom half of the alphabet were off by one line. That left some districts and charters with too much money and others with not enough as they were given the wrong allotments.

Districts receiving the largest amounts of excess funding were Rio Rancho, $975,942; Lovington, $427,155; Santa Fe, $230,613; Los Alamos, $218,076; and Portales, $120,165.

Districts shortchanged the largest amounts were Los Lunas, $182,310; Roswell, $180,550; West Las Vegas, $80,296; Moriarty, $70,410; and Tularosa, $55,973.
Mike Chambers, superintendent of Magdalena schools near Socorro, caught the error and told the department in February.

“When I first reported it, the response was, ‘No way,’ “ he said. “And I said, ‘Well, I think you better look because it is there.’”

Magdalena was short $40,430, forcing it to cut back on tutoring for kids, Chambers said.

“Easy to understand how the error occurred,” he said. “My disappointment is we’re sitting here two months later and it’s still not taken care of.’

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said it’s good that the department recognized its mistake but bad that it didn’t move swiftly to correct it.

“I don’t think that’s happened here,” Candelaria said.

Aguilar said the department has accepted responsibility for the errors and is trying to correct them.

“The buck stops with us, and we’re working to make it right,” Aguilar said.