Gov. Lujan Grisham on Wednesday announced his administration would pursue a seven percent pay hike for educators and staff at all K-12 public schools. The proposal would increase the salaries of nearly 50,000 employees across New Mexico. The total cost of the proposed salary increase would be around $ 280 million which it will ask the legislature to approve.

It’s a move hailed by education advocates who presented a recent study on the lack of affordable housing for teachers to lawmakers by the New Mexico National Education Assembly (NEA) that surveyed 400 educators in the Santa Fe public school system. The survey asked teachers if they could afford a house with their current teaching salary, and 86 percent said no. More than half of the participants responded that they feared they could continue to live in Santa Fe due to rising housing costs.

The average starting salary for a teacher in New Mexico is $ 41,000, which is a decent income for most of the state. But in cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque, that’s often not enough. The average cost of rent in Hobbs, New Mexico, is $ 650, while the cost of rent in Santa Fe double at $ 1,460. that of Albuquerque the average cost of rent is $ 1,117.

“It’s always difficult to talk about the difficult aspects of teaching because I love to teach; but it gets difficult, especially in places like Santa Fe, ”said Jamie Torres, a teacher in Santa Fe, in an interview with The paper. Torres noted that despite her love and passion for the profession, the cost of living in Santa Fe made her work as an educator unbearable. Torres was fortunate enough to have family in Santa Fe that she was able to live with until she could save enough to find her apartment. However, soaring house prices and rents have made the challenge of finding a place on his salary almost overwhelming. This was exacerbated by a percentage of each of his checks going to retirement, health and other benefits offered by the Santa Fe School District, as well as student debt. Torres noted that during her first four years as a teacher in the school district, her bi-weekly check would only come in at $ 900 after tax. In one of the state’s most expensive cities, that just won’t be enough.

Fortunately, thanks to an extensive network, Torres was finally able to find a one-bedroom apartment, but the cost of living still made her reconsider her location and even her career. “It’s an amazing career, but somewhere like Santa Fe it puts me in a position where I wonder if I can afford to be a teacher. “

The NEA survey hopes to pressure state lawmakers to raise teachers’ salaries to living wages and attract more qualified candidates into a profession that is sorely understaffed nationwide.

In an interview with the president of the Albuquerque Teachers’ Federation, union president Ellen Bernstein said housing is just one of the many challenges teachers face in this state. Bernstein noted that New Mexico’s education workforce is on the verge of “great exhaustion.” “The question for this session is not just what a living wage is, but what a competitive wage is. If they are not bold, I guarantee you that we will lose over 1,000 people, ”said Bernstein. Under-staffed schools and general disrespect for educators, Bernstein said, has forced many educators to retire or move to an area with higher salaries or better benefits. “We have a workforce that is either going to leave or retire due to its extreme exhaustion from these shortages,” Bernstein said.

If action is not taken in the next legislative session, Bernstein warns that the chronic problems facing New Mexico’s education system will only get worse. “The stress of our current shortages will create more shortages,” she said. Bernstein also noted that past efforts to raise teacher salaries were short-sighted, as lawmakers failed to pass legislation that would keep teacher salaries competitive and increase with the cost of living.

It is not just teachers who are forced to consider a career change because of the cost of living. Support staff in schools, including secretaries, guards and bus drivers, are in alarming shortages due to wages still below the poverty line. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a school sitter in New Mexico is just over $ 20,000, or about a little over $ 10 an hour. With salaries well below the poverty line, there is no doubt about the source of a rapidly shrinking workforce in our state’s schools.

Bernstein is hoping the legislature will take drastic action to increase resources at New Mexico schools to stem a runaway workforce. “If they choose New Mexico, they should be able to raise their family in New Mexico.”

Justin schatz

Justin Schatz is the daily reporter for The Paper. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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