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Posted April 25, 2017

Budget Myths vs. Facts

A message from the APS Budget Steering Committee

There has been quite a bit of misinformation reported in the past week or so about the Albuquerque Public Schools budget, middle school sports, top administrator salaries, cash reserves and more. In our continuing effort to be as honest and transparent as possible, we wanted to provide you with a more accurate picture of our budgetary situation. Keep in mind that the budget is an evolving plan that will be adjusted as more information becomes available.

Myth: APS has a “$94 million reserve fund.”

Fact: This in an inflated figure that includes money earned by teachers and educational assistants that is paid to them during the summer. This fund also includes working cash that we use to cover our bills while waiting for reimbursements from the state, federal government and others.

We already tapped our reserve fund by $11.6 million to cover mid-year reductions, and we expect to take more from the account to help cover cuts in 2017-18, though we need to make sure it doesn’t drop too low. 

Myth: No other school district has talked about possibly having to cut athletics.

Fact: Rio Rancho has mentioned possibly cutting athletics and extracurricular activities. Here's a story from Channel 7 that mentions this. 

Other districts from across the state are considering drastic measures to deal with projected shortfalls, from closing schools in Santa Fe to going to a four-day school week in Loving. 

Myth: We’re cutting intramural sports at middle schools. 

Fact: Right now, it doesn't look like we have enough funding for competitive, traveling teams in middle school (volleyball, basketball and track).   

We are planning to keep PE, intramurals and programs that are funded by grants such as flag football, lunchtime basketball, archery, tennis and soccer. And our Athletics Department, coaches and schools are working on additional ways to provide athletic opportunities for our middle school students. We are cautiously optimistic. 

Myth: APS has raised property taxes to cover operating expenses. 

Fact: The APS property tax rate has been the same for more than a decade. 

Myth: State funding for APS has increased over the past several years even as enrollment declines. 

Fact: In 2009, APS received $621 million in state funding. Eight years later, our funding is $620 million. And while we have seen a decline in enrollment, we also face increases in utility costs, insurance and compensation for employees who move through the tier salary system. 

Myth: APS paid almost $5 million to build an employee health center, in addition to almost $4 million annually to run it. 

Fact: There is no APS employee health center. 

Myth: APS schools are not producing results. 

Fact: While we’re not where we want to be in terms of reading and math proficiencies and graduation rates, we have seen improvements over the past few years: 

  • Our drop-out rate has decreased from 7.2 percent in 2013 to 6.1 percent in 2015. We expect it to decrease even more this year.
  • Our graduation rate increased by 4.3 percentage points last year, the highest it’s been in three years.
  • Our reading and math proficiency rates are actually slightly higher than the state average. 

Myth: Many of our budgetary woes could be addressed by reducing the salaries of 35 top administrators. 

Fact: APS is the city’s largest employer and among the largest in the state. In addition to running the educational aspects of the district, top administrators are charged with the mechanics of supporting a large, diverse workforce, managing expenditures around a billion dollars, and keeping billions of dollars of buildings safe, operable and clean. 

Of the 35 people listed as making more than $100,000 a year:

  • Six are NOT paid with operational dollars and a seventh is paid in part with money from a non-profit organization.
  • One no longer works for APS and the position will be filled at a lower salary.
  • One has taken a different job at a lower salary.
  • The salaries of the top administrators make up less than one-quarter of one percent of salaries for the 12,000 full-time APS employees. 

Myth: APS spends $1.6 million on “lobbyists and publicists.”

Fact: This is an inflated number that includes an independently operated public radio station and a print shop. 

APS has one staff member who spends about a third of her time as the APS liaison to the legislature, advocating for public education in New Mexico. The other two-thirds are spent making sure APS is in compliance with federal, state and local laws and helping to develop and update internal policies and procedures. 

The district also pays an annual fee of $60,000 to a law firm for lobbying and year-round legal advice on the implications and obligations of pending, new and updated legislation. In the most recent legislative session, more than 1,000 pieces of legislation were introduced. 

APS doesn’t have “publicists.” It has a small Communications Office that is responsible for (among other things):

  • Helping schools managing crisis situations 
  • Responding to media inquiries (100+ a month)
  • Keeping parents and the community informed which includes a weekly electronic newsletter
  • Communicating with employees which include a biweekly newsletter and messages on behalf of the superintendent and administration (like this one)
  • Facilitating records requests (about 100 a month)
  • Managing content for APS.edu, which gets about 16.5 million page views/year
  • Posting to social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

It should be noted that almost all urban school districts have communications staffs, and even some of the smaller school districts in the state – including individual charter schools – have lobbyists.

Bottom Line: APS has been and continues to do more with less.

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