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Posted March 8, 2011

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March 2011: Dialogue must be based on openness

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

One of the buzz words in public education these days is "transparency." Understandably. Parents have a right to know what's going on at their child's school. Employees need to know what's expected of them as public servants. Taxpayers should know just how their money is being spent.

I get how important it is for Albuquerque Public Schools to be above board with parents, employees, students and the community.

Several of the goals I set for the district when I first became superintendent relate to our obligation to let you know what we're doing. I set out to change the perception and build confidence in APS by being open and honest with stakeholders. I pledged to improve internal and external communications. I felt it was very important to maintain a transparent, sound and effective financial stewardship.

I'm proud to report we're meeting these goals and fulfilling our promise to keep our constituents informed. Want to know how we're spending money? How we're handling budget cuts? What issues we're debating? Or what decisions we're making? Go to our website at www.aps.edu, and you can find out.

Don't take my word for it. A national nonprofit organization dedicated to state and local government transparency found that the APS website does a good job providing information to the public.

The Sunshine Review (www.sunshinereview.org) uses a 10-point transparency checklist to evaluate the content of more than 5,000 state and local government websites. APS was one of only three school districts in New Mexico to get a B or better from the organization; 72 of the state's 89 school districts earned a D or lower; and four New Mexico school districts don't have websites.

The Sunshine Review's evaluation of the APS website found the district does a good job providing information on its budget, meetings, elected and administrative officials, contracts, audits and academics. We earned a B because information on property taxes and background checks was incomplete. We're working on making those improvements.

The good grade we earned for transparency from the Sunshine Review validates our efforts. But being open and honest comes with a price. We've been labeled as flip-floppers, whiners and naysayers, especially when it comes to financial matters.

I beg to differ. It's not whining when we share with our community the harsh budgetary reality we face. It's not flip-flopping or crying wolf when we post projected budget cuts that constantly change as we work through the process.

We're not naysayers, but realists who recognize that budget cuts for the third straight year could hurt our kids. Fewer teachers and support personnel translate into more crowded classrooms and the loss of programs and services. Salary cuts due to increased retirement contributions and possible furlough days will require our dedicated employees to continue to do more for less.

Sometimes the truth hurts. But there is a silver lining in this gray financial picture. Despite the constant budgetary squeeze, APS is as dedicated as ever to fulfilling our mission of providing high-quality education to Albuquerque's kids. We'll continue to strive for better schools, improved test scores, increased graduation rates.

Not long ago, I was given the William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government for releasing information and speaking openly and frankly about the school district. While I was honored to receive this award, the fact is I'm just doing my job. And I'll keep being straight with you, even if what I have to tell you isn't easy to hear.

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