The negative consequences of a school budget deficit in the northern New Mexico town of Questa have triggered an uproar among the community, causing residents to raise money and rally for positive changes.
Majority of Questa would agree that the economy took a hit with the closure of the Chevron molybdenum mine in 2014. The mine was a major source of jobs and financial stability for Questa and the surrounding area. Many residents had no choice but to seek jobs elsewhere. Impacts of the closure can still be seen throughout the town, including at the school district.
According to the latest 2017-2018 expenditure report, the Questa School District has an operational budget of about $9.3 million. School Board Secretary Jose Lovato said a deficit has been nagging the district the past two years, to the point it had to apply for supplemental emergency funds of $149,000 from the state to keep the schools running.
“Enrollment has continued to decline with the closure of the mine and students transferring to charter schools,” Lovato said. “We lose funding with the lack of enrollment and it costs the same to heat the buildings and run the school.”
According to members of the Questa community, in late January word began circulating that high school track and baseball teams would be cut to aid in the budget repairs. The rumors sparked an outcry from the community and the creation of a booster club to rescue the athletic teams.
“We had formed the [booster club] for the youth football and basketball team,” said Questa Booster Club president and parent Rebecca Griego. “When it was heard that the school board was going to cancel spring sports, we decided to incorporate grades K-12 in order to support high school athletes as well.”
According to student-athletes and booster club members, the Questa High track teams were hit hardest by the budget deficits causing them to trim the number of meets the athletes will participate in this spring.
“The kids won’t have as many chances to qualify for state with the limited number of track meets,” said assistant track coach, parent, and booster club member Monique Trujillo. “They would have had eight meets rather than five. They would have had that many more chances to reach their goals, get to the state meet, and prepare.”
Lovato said that the overall budget for athletics within the district is between $300-$400 thousand depending on whether you include travel expenses which are budgeted separately. According to Lovato, the largest portion of that amount is for the transportation of student-athletes to away competitions.
Despite the budget concerns within the district, Lovato said that spring sports were never supposed to be in danger of an altered schedule, still, the seasons were shortened.
The budget woes are not just about the fear of losing some sporting events. For the members of the Questa community, the issue resonates for reasons larger than the town itself.
“We’re such a small community that there isn’t a whole lot available for the kids to do,” Griego said. “These sports keep the kids involved in academics and it keeps them from doing negative things, keeps them on the right path.
By rallying its support, the community is putting its best foot forward to preserve a valued institution, which could be essential for its long-term survival. Griego said, “School sports is not just about teaching kids how to play a sport. It teaches them team building skills and life skills that they’ll use in the future.”
She said the support ranges from parents and school officials to the mayor and local police officers. “It’s a very community oriented endeavor and we’ve gotten an overwhelming amount of support,” Griego said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from businesses in Questa as well. We’ve had offers to utilize local facilities for events as well as donations.”
“I think it brings [the community] together,” Trujillo said. “We’re trying to unite for one common cause—our students, our athletes. We all want the best for our children and if we can show our kids that we can all come together to achieve one goal—the success of our students—it sets a good example for our kids.”
Questa School District Budget Information via Expenditure Board Report
|2017-2018 Budget Totals||$9,279,968.00|
|Athletics Salaries Budget||$61,863.00|
|Student Travel Budget||
The Questa School Board Secretary Jose Lovato said that he is supportive and optimistic about the new booster club and its endeavors to help keep Questa athletics alive.
“[Sports] play a huge role in every student athlete’s life,” Lovato said. “Sports often become a huge part of academic motivation and character building.”
In collaboration with the school, the booster club plans to fundraise to provide financial support where the schools cannot.
“We don’t want to see the kids lose out,” Griego said. “We want to help with food, uniforms and even transportation. Our goal is being the major support for athletics department.”
Although the Questa Booster Club does not have a definite financial goal for their fundraising endeavors, they have been in contact with school officials to begin delving into the amounts necessary to keep the athletics program running smoothly.
“We got rough estimates from the school as far as what it costs to provide uniforms and meals,” Griego said. “That was somewhere in the $30,000 range, so, if anything, we’re shooting for at least that amount.”
According to Griego, despite the tremulous circumstances that led to the inclusion of the high school athletic department into the Questa Booster Club, the outcome has been firmly positive and exemplify the community’s best qualities.
“Questa is pretty unique community in that through difficult times the people come out and support one another,” Griego said. “Without the support of the whole community we would not have seen as much success as we have.”