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Posted March 1, 2018

Radio Show Answers Budget Questions

For the second consecutive year, APS hosted a radio show to talk about budget possibilities and challenges for next school year.

For the second year, APS hosted a live radio show to provide the Albuquerque Public Schools community an opportunity to learn more about the district’s current budget situation.

The show was moderated by Storme Lynn and hosted by APS-licensed radio station KANW-FM. Superintendent Raquel Reedy, APS Board of Education President Dr. David Peercy, Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman and Chief Operations Officer Scott Elder were on hand to answer questions, listen to suggestions and give insight to issues.

Hundreds of people followed a live feed of the discussion on the and others got updates on Twitter. It continues to be an alternative approach to public budget discussions, which traditionally have been held at often, not well-attended public meetings.

“People are busy and we understand that,” Superintendent Reedy said. “Between careers, homework, the gym, Little League practice and the myriad of other activities our families are engaged in, they don’t always have free time to dedicate to anything more than the essentials. There’s interest, but no time. So we decided to try this.”

The show began with an overview of the APS budget situation, which seems hopeful compared to past years. In the past when funding provided by the state had been slashed. Coleman explained that continued work on the budget is pending the governor's signature.

Among the questions and suggestions discussed on the show:

Will teachers get raises this year?

The plan is to implement a 2.5 percent increase for teachers and the 3-tier teacher pay scale could be augmented by $2,000. All other employees could see a 2 percent increase.

Can we stop spending money on charter schools?

APS does not fund charter schools. There are state laws that govern charter school spending.

Why are so many charter schools being opened?

The state Legislature recently voted against a proposal for a two-year moratorium on new charter schools. 

How will the budget impact extracurricular activities including athletics?

Cuts to extracurricular activities are not being considered for next school year. 

How much does administration cost APS?

Central administration is less than 1 percent of the APS budget, which includes the superintendent, assistant superintendents, parent and employee advocacy, the Office of Innovation, the APS Education Foundation, the Chief Operation Office, the Board of Education and bond election costs. Another 5 percent goes to central services – many of which are housed at City Centre – including human resources, payroll and technology. Almost all the rest goes to schools or student support.

Do we expect class sizes to decrease next year if there are no budget cuts?

We consider reducing class size waivers a priority because we know that smaller classes are better educational environments for students.

How does the state fund public schools?

New Mexico funds schools through the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG) formula which includes the number of students in a district and adds factors for additional needs such as different grade levels, risk factors, and levels of service of special needs students.

Please explain the budget of the special education department.

While APS has about 25 percent of the state’s students, we support more than half of the special education needs in the state. That’s because we offer many programs and Albuquerque has a concentration of medical services. We do get additional funding for special education, but often it isn’t enough to meet all of the needs of students.

How much does the district pay for student food service? 

The budget for APS food service is $17 million, however, it is reimbursed by the USDA. Currently, 69 percent of our population qualifies for free and reduced lunch for which we get reimbursed. 

We strongly encourage and support families to apply for the free and reduced lunch program.

A recent law indicates the district is required to handle the cost of the meal if the student doesn’t pay and doesn’t qualify or hasn’t applied for free or reduced lunch. APS had to cover $70,000 for unpaid meals for the first four months of the 2017-2018 school year.

Will we see insurance costs go up?

For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, APS employee insurance premiums did not go up, but there were some plan design changes. In addition, another pay threshold was added to provide support depending on the range in salary.

How much do we spend on testing and is it possible to eliminate PARCC testing?

PARCC is state-mandated for the evaluation of 3rd through 11th-grade student progress and proficiency for graduation, and teacher effectiveness. Over the past few years, PARCC testing has been paid for by the New Mexico Public Education Department, but this does not include the time and effort that goes into administering the test. Calculating these cost dollars is very difficult.

More expenses for testing arose when we transitioned from the use of paper to electronic testing. The paper tests were expensive to print, but complying with electronic testing requirements was also costly due to extra space needed, computers and computer stations.

How many school buses are providing services to APS students?

APS provides 200 buses and contracts 11 companies to provide an additional 300 buses. These 500 buses transport more than 40,000 students traveling more than 39,000 miles every school day and costs $16 million that is reimbursed by the state.

Are there plans to close any schools and/or consolidate them?

The APS Right Sized Task Force reviews all of the schools to evaluate their condition, resources, size, and communities to determine what kind of future support systems and programs is best for that community and facility.

We understand the importance of school to the neighborhood and community it serves and we understand these are financial and emotional decisions. Community members are involved in any changes with research, planning and foresight.

How can APS build new facilities, such as the training center currently under construction? Why can’t those funds be used for the classroom?

We want the best student outcomes and that means we improve schools, but we must support training opportunities for employees. Seven new educational facilities for students were built in the last year and there is ongoing renovation of other schools.

By law, funding for facilities and other capital projects cannot be used for anything else because they derive from bond and mill levy funds.

Why is the bond rating so important to APS?

It’s like an individual’s credit score. A poor rating means we pay higher interest rates when we borrow money, leaving less money to build and renovate schools

Is a tax increase considered to support schools similar to other states?

Currently, there is no tax increase considered.

Does the new mayor support any of the APS district programs?

There has been a smooth transition with Mayor Keller and his staff. We are working to together to support students and families.

Did transitioning to the zone concept save the district money?

Community and school stakeholders were asked for their opinions and visions for the optimal APS educational environment and what skills students should acquire before they graduate. Responses activated communication plans and more synchronized planning and communications between the education levels (elementary, middle and high school).

What have we learned from the lean times?

We brought all of the departments together to review and prioritize how their work affected the education process. Better interdepartmental communication supported reducing duplicated efforts.

What are the budget priorities for 2018-2019? 

  • Salary increases are important because the last raise of 1 percent was four years ago.
  • Reducing the class size waiver
  • Increasing instruction materials funding that has been diminished by $5 million since 2009 causing delays in replacing outdated educational materials

Is APS concerned about the level of funding?

We don’t have enough funding. We are still struggling to reach the level of support provided a decade ago in 2008.

What programs are working to conserve and provide more resources?

We are leveraging resources and programs to cut costs that increase every year. The Water and Energy Conservation Committee has implemented conservation programs district-wide that has significantly reduced water and energy consumption and costs. A new internet fiber project will reduce cost by 75 percent.

We were able to recover more than $1 million over the past year consistently implementing the APS facilities usage program that charges for the use of the facility and requires liability insurance to protect the district. The usage cost depends on the type of organization or business.

What do you say to a parent who is concerned that APS isn’t adequately funded to give their student an excellent education?

Get involved and learn about the needs of education throughout New Mexico. Talk to their legislators about their concerns and support their concerns with their vote.

What is the best way to stay informed?

Information is continually updated at APS.edu, in addition, each individual school has its own website.

The APS Finance Department’ Budget and Strategic Planning webpage, is a valuable resource, in addition to a video, Understanding the APS Budget.

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