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New Mexico Citizens' Panel Calls for Higher Starting Salaries for Teachers

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A citizens' panel appointed by Gov. Toney Anaya of New Mexico has recommended boosting teachers' starting salaries from the current average of $14,800 to $25,000 by 1989, in order to make teaching competitive with business occupations and other higher-paying professions.

"If business is the one that's taking them away, then we should pay a businessman's price," said Sister Mary John Soulliard, a panel member who is superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Archdioceses of Santa Fe and Las Cruces.

The proposal recommends a 10-percent increase each year for six years. The total cost has not been calculated, but it would be "several hundreds of millions of dollars," said James Miller, director of the Governor's office of education.

The panel, called the Governor's Commission on Public Schools, also recommended extending teachers' contracts from 180 to 190 days a year. This would allow them "to teach right up to the last minute" of the students' 180-day school year, Sister Soulliard said. The extra 10 days would be available for inservice education, parent interviews, and paperwork, all of which now detract from teaching time, she added. The contract extensions would cost the state about $15 million, Mr. Miller said.

'A Lost Cause'

But Mr. Miller and members of the commission conceded that they were not optimistic about winning approval for the proposals when the legislature meets in January. "For this year at least, it's pretty much a lost cause," said William E. Warren, a former state legislator who served as co-chairman of the panel.

One reason is that next year is an election year, and tax-increase bills are almost never passed during elec-tion years, said Mr. Miller. All 42 seats in the state Senate are up for election next year, instead of the usual 50 percent, because of a reapportionment measure that prevented elections from being held in 1982, Mr. Warren said.

It was the legislature's move to lower taxes, in fact, that led to the schools' present financial problems, according to members of the Governor's panel. A 1981 tax-relief bill drastically cut the state's property tax and has cost the public schools more than $100 million in revenues since then, state officials said. As a result, most teachers got no raises or increments this past year, they added.

Mr. Warren said the situation in the schools could become critical if more money is not pumped into the system soon. The panel is calling for a return to a higher state property tax again, but members said they have not yet agreed on the exact level.

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