Don’t cut funding for Communities In Schools

May 6, 2019

For the past several years I have been a volunteer with Communities In Schools of New Mexico — specifically working at El Camino Real Academy, a south-side Title 1 school serving approximately 900 pre-K through eighth-grade students.

I assist a wonderful, dual-language seventh-grade math teacher and love the task of preparing recent arrivals for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam. I am grateful to Communities In Schools for allowing me to extend my teaching career.

Working with classes of 25 students with such wide ranges of math and English language skills is a tremendous challenge. In my time at the school, I have witnessed Communities In Schools site coordinators in action — doing whatever it takes to keep kids in school and on track. I was disappointed to read in a recent Santa Fe New Mexican story (“Projected SFPS budget deficit could hurt at-risk students,” April 24), that Santa Fe Public Schools might cut funding for this important initiative.

Communities In Schools serves about 6,000 Santa Fe Public Schools students, including 20 who will graduate from Capital High next month. These students are talented and motivated, but also face significant challenges, mostly associated with poverty through no fault of their own. That’s where CIS comes in.

In 11 schools, Communities In Schools site coordinators work with children and youth, helping them remove barriers to learning. If food insecurity or lack of stable housing is an issue, Communities In Schools steps in. If after-school programs are in need, CIS helps set them up. When kids are struggling socially/emotionally, Communities In Schools coordinators are there as caring adults in students’ lives as well as trained professionals who help families navigate the behavioral health system. And this is not only a social service program; it’s an academic one, as CIS staff members help students set academic, behavior and attendance goals with students providing them both support and and accountability to reach those goals.

Last year, 98 percent of Communities In Schools-supported students stayed in school; 89 percent were promoted to the next grade, 77 percent progressed to their academic or behavioral goals, and an astounding 87 percent of CIS-supported seniors graduated from high school (the district average is 73 percent).

This budget season, the school board is facing difficult decisions in light of a recently revealed budget deficit. While no one wants to see our public schools face cuts to services, the Board of Education’s decision on whether to continue the current minimal level of investment in Communities In Schools should be a simple one.

The district provides only 28 percent of the program’s operating budget. The other 72 percent of the operating budget is raised from private sources. It appears that the return on investment to the district and the benefits to the community are quite high with this beautiful public-private partnership. A cut in funding would result in decreased opportunities for the kids who need them most.

Currently, there are nearly 3,000 disengaged young people in Santa Fe who are neither in school nor in the workforce. Programs like Communities In Schools are reducing those numbers. The difficult question facing the Board of Education is whether an investment of 28 cents on the dollar is worth mitigating the negative impact of poverty on learning and keeping our youth engaged and successful in school.

I worry that a cut in funding from the district could impact Communities In Schools’ ability to place volunteers like myself in the classroom. Such cuts may reduce the number of schools and students that can be served. I don’t want to lose this gig.

Barry Herskowitz has lived in Santa Fe for 27 years and is active in several local nonprofit organizations.