Albuquerque Public School (APS) System is conducting a bonding and property tax levy election for the renovation, refurbishment and construction of new schools to replace old schools.
APS is seeking a 2-mill levy property tax rate increase and a bond initiative.
The money generated is budgeted for 34 specific construction projects.
The election is being conducted by “mail in ballot” overseen by the Bernalillo County Clerk with ballots mailed to all Bernalillo County registered voters.
All ballots must be returned to the Bernalillo County Clerk before Tuesday, February 5, 2019, or they will not be counted.
APS IN A NUTSHELL
Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is New Mexico’s largest school district, serving more than a fourth of the state’s students and nearly 84,000 students.
The ethnicity of the APS 84,000 students is:
5.5% American Indian
3.2% African American
2.3% Asian American
0.2% are “other”
Of the 84,000 APS students 16.6% are classified as “English Learners”, 17.2% are classified as “Students with Disabilities”, and 5.9% are in gifted programs
There are 29 APS authorized charter schools with 7,100 students attending the charter schools.
APS is among the top 40 largest school districts in the nation and the largest in New Mexico.
APS operates 142 schools consisting of 4 K-8 schools, 88 elementary schools (K through 8th grade), 27 middle schools (6-8 th grade), 21 high schools (9th to 12th grade) and 2 alternative schools.
APS students live in the city of Albuquerque and the towns of Corrales, Los Ranchos and the counties of Bernalillo and Sandoval, and the pueblos of Isleta and Laguna.
APS serves many students in need with nearly two-thirds qualifying for the federal school meals program.
APS employs 14,000 total employees consisting of 12,000 full time employees, 6,063 teachers and librarians and 1,800 teacher aides.
The school district serves 29,000 breakfast per school day and 41,000 lunches per school day.
APS has an approved 2018-2018 approved budget of $1.38 Billion.
THE APS PROPERTY TAX MILL AND BOND QUESTIONS
The 2-mill levy property tax rate increase and a bond initiative, should they be approved by voters, will generate over $900 million over the next 6 years for construction projects.
The passage of two of the measures will entail a property tax increase of 4.7% on homes, real estate and commercial property.
In dollars and cents, a 2-mill levy means someone with a home valued at $100,000 will see an annual increase of $67 in property taxes, a home valued at $150,000 will have an annual tax increase of $100, and for a home valued at $220,000, the median home value in the city, it will be a $147 annual increase in property taxes.
There has not been an APS tax rate increase since 2006, a full 12 years and well before the recession.
The “mail-in ballot” has three ballot questions or initiatives, one on the front of the ballot and two on the back of the ballot.
The FIRST ballot initiative on the front of the ballot is entitled “THE PUBLIC-SCHOOL CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS TAX QUESTION”. This initiative involves money earmarked for maintenance of existing facilities and this question is a continuation of the current tax rate. The current tax rate is at the end of its six-year cycle, and continued funding is needed to maintain APS current facilities. This money protects the public’s investment in public schools.
The SECOND ballot initiative is on the back of the ballot to the left and is entitled “THE PUBLIC-SCHOOL BUILDING TAX QUESTION”. This initiative involves money to be used to create new facilities as well as purchase needed equipment and technology. APS is asking the voter to consider a $1 per $1,000 of assessed value increase to their taxes. This question is a little confusing as it asks permission to raise taxes to $4.83 per $1,000 with people wrongly assuming this is a $4.83 increase, but the current rate is $3.83, so it is only a $1 increase.
The THIRD ballot initiative is also on the back of the ballot and on the right upper side and is entitled “GENERAL OBLIGATION BOND QUESTION”: This initiative asks voters for permission to sell an additional $200 million in General Obligation Bonds. These bonds can be used solely for capital and equipment for the district and it does increase property taxes by $1 per $1,000 for repayment of the debt.
For a sample ballot, go to https://www.bernco.gov/uploads/files/Clerk/APS-Feb-05-2019%20Sample%20Ballot.pdf
For further instructions on the ballot see Postscript below.
WHAT IS BEING SOUGHT
The total increase for all three questions is $2 per $1,000, or 4.7% of a total property tax rate.
The first initiative seeks $190 million for continuing maintenance of the public schools and keeps the tax rate as it is.
The other two initiatives seek $510 million and $200 million for construction and instructional equipment, and would increase the APS mill tax rate.
If voters approve the first initiative, property tax rates will stay the same and APS will continue to receive approximately the same amount it has been receiving for maintenance, repairs, remodels, equipment, furnishings and like projects.
Because APS schools and facilities are deteriorating from use, the other two ballot initiatives would cover the costs of rebuilding.
There is no question that many of the aging schools need replacing.
APS is asking voters for funding for 34 projects costing a total of $900 MILLION that are deemed needed throughout the entire largest school district in New Mexico.
A total of 31 of the 34 projects consist of renovating, repairing and replacing aging schools, including 16 elementary schools, 12 middle schools and 3 high schools.
There are targeted capital dollars to provide funding to finish up major rebuilds and upgrades to 23 school campuses.
The capital monies will also provide start-up monies for 11 additional renovation projects targeting aging campuses in historic neighborhoods, like La Mesa Elementary School.
The remaining 3 projects are $20 million for school security upgrades, one project is $1.8 million for long overdue Information Technology (IT) upgrades, and one project is $1.5 million for infrastructure and American With Disabilities Act renovations.
The $20 million for much needed school security upgrades is in response to APS needing to upgrade safety measures in response to the rash of incidences of gun violence on school grounds across the country, including New Mexico.
The $20 million in security funding will provide for new locks for every classroom, security vestibule entrances, upgraded camera security with a district-wide central monitoring center, and build protective perimeter fencing for school campuses.
The IT upgrading technology is for both students and teachers and is necessary to stay competitive education wise in a fast evolving, high-tech world.
Speaking in favor of passage of all three ballot initiatives, APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy said:
“We are trying to keep those buildings up and provide the best learning environment for our students.”
The APS Public School System receives very little funding from the State of New Mexico for school construction and must fund, build and maintain all of its school facilities.
The construction projects are divided into two major categories:
A) Projects already designed and to be to be constructed and
B) New “Design & Construction Projects” to begin with construction funds from the 2022 School Bond Elections.
A. The following major APS projects are already designed and to be to be constructed with the passage of all the initiatives:
Jackson Middle School: Construction of Next 2 phases (PE and Classrooms and Administration) $9.4 million
Turf Fields (District): District-wide High School, Middle School and Elementary School, $3 million
School Police Command Center (District): Command Center Construction, $2.3 million
Student Ancillary Support (District): IT & District Support Consolidation, $1.8 million
Lincoln (District): Infrastructure and American With Disabilities Act renovations, $1.5 million
Arroyo del Oso Elementary School: Construction of replacement school, $24.53 million
Barcelona Elementary School: Construction of new Gym and Media Center, Admin, Kitchen and Cafeteria, $6.85 million
Career Enrichment Center/Early College Academy: Construction of classrooms and renovations $7.57 million
Jane Kahn K-8: Construction of 2 final phases of replacement school, $25.81 million
Hubert Humphrey Elementary School: Construction of replacement school, $18.76 million
Lavaland Elementary School: Construction of classroom block, $8.53 million
Monte Vista Elementary School: Construction of classroom block, $5.38 million.
Navajo Elementary School: Construction of Kindergarten/Art-music classrooms, $3.94 million
Coyote Willow Family School K-8: Construction of final phase of classrooms, $3.90 million
Sierra Vista Elementary School: Construction of classroom block, $7.96 million
Taylor Middle School: 2 phases of school replacement, classrooms, $13.65 million
Truman Middle School: Classroom & Admin, 2 phases of school replacement. $15.62
Valle Vista Elementary School: Construction of classroom block, $9.54 million
Zia Elementary School: Construction of replacement school, $15.89
ZX DW Bus Depots (District): Construction of student 3 transportation depots, $18 million
M.A. Binford Elementary School: Construction of classroom block/Admin, $7.8 million
McKinley Middle School: Construction of classroom block, 2 phases of school replacement, $3.37 million
Rio Grande High School: Construction of phase 3 of a 5 phased school replacement, $5.74
B. New “Design & Construction Projects” to begin with election passage and with construction funds to come from the 2022 School Bond Elections are:
Washington Middle School: Design & Build for School Replacement, $31.23 million
Harrison Middle School: Design & Build first 2 phases of a 3 phased school replacement, $33.84
Desert Ridge Middle School: Design & Build Classroom addition and site Infrastructure improvements, $19 million
Van Buren Middle School: Design & Build first 2 phases of a 3 phased l school replacement, $33.84 million
Hayes Middle School: Design & Build first 2 phases of a 3 phased school replacement, $32.84 million
Whittier Elementary School : Design & Build New Classroom Block and Admin replacement, $12.60 million
La Mesa Elementary School: Design & Build of Renovations & Classroom Block Replacement, $16.36 million
Eldorado Hight School: Design & Build first 2 phases of a 5 phased school replacement, $30.10 million
Hawthorne Elementary School: Design & Building Renovations & Classroom Block Replacement, $12.60 million
Grant Middle School: Design & Build new classroom, first 2 phases of 3 phased school replacement, $26.26 million
Corrales Elementary School: Design & Build & Renovate/refurbish, $3.5 million
APS NOT JUST ALBUQUERQUE
When it comes to APS students, they include the towns of Corrales, Los Ranchos, the counties of Bernalillo and Sandoval, and the pueblos of Isleta and Laguna.
Two-thirds of the 84,000 APS students are Hispanic and 16.6 percent are English Learners.
APS also serves many students in need with nearly two-thirds qualifying for the federal school meals program.
For all too many years, New Mexico’s and the APS school system have consistently rank at the bottom or near bottom of national statistics and rankings with respect to graduation rates and reading, writing and math proficiency.
STATE DISTRICT COURT RULING IMPACT ON APS
Education is the number one priority for Governor Lujan Grisham and the 2019 New Mexico legislature that started January 15, 2019 because of a District Court ruling last year that New Mexico was failing to meet its constitutional requirement to provide sufficient schooling to all students.
The District Court ruling does have a direct impacto APS.
On July 20, 2018, Santa Fe District Court Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state of New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a sufficient education.
The court ruled many New Mexico students are not receiving the basic education in reading, writing and math they should be receiving in our public-school system.
As a matter of law, Judge Singleton wrote the “lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights.”
In her blistering written opinion, Judge Singleton wrote:
“[The evidence presented at trial] proves that the vast majority of New Mexico’s at-risk children finish each school year without the basic literacy and math skills needed to pursue post-secondary education or a career. … Indeed, overall New Mexico children rank at the very bottom in the country for educational achievement. … The at-risk students are still not attaining proficiency at the rate of non-at-risk students … and the programs being lauded by [the Public Education Department] are not changing this picture.”
According to the judge’s ruling, in New Mexico, 71.6% of the state’s public-school students come from low-income families, and 14.4% are English-language learners.
Judge Singleton addressing proficiency rates for Native American students said that in the past 3 years, those students’ reading proficiency was at 17.6% and their math proficiency was at 10.4%.
The District Court found that New Mexico does not have enough teachers and that New Mexico teachers are among the lowest paid in the country.
Governor Lujan Grisham has already announced her administration will not appeal the District Court ruling.
STATE FUNDING THAT WILL AFFECT APS AND TEACHERS
Newly elected Governor Michelle Lujan has submitted a proposed total budget for New Mexico of $7.1 billion for consideration by the 2019 New Mexico legislature.
The $7.1 billion budget increases state spending by $806 million.
The Governor’s budget calls for $3.2 billion to be spent on Public Schools, a 18% increase, and $830.2 million, a 3.3% increase on higher education.
Increasing teacher salaries, hiring more teachers and addressing the needs of our kids are at the top of Governor Lujan Grisham’s agenda as well as the New Mexico legislatures in the 2019 legislative session with $500 million in new monies proposed for education.
The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) for its part released its own budget proposal plan that would increase year-over-year state spending by $670.8 million, or by 10.6%, as opposed to the Governor’s $806 million, or 12.7% increase or a 2.1% difference between the plans.
The LFC’s budget would earmark more than three-fifths of the additional spending toward public schools statewide.
More than 50% of the proposed $806 million Lujan-Grisham budget increase will go to the public education system.
Lujan Grisham’s budget plan calls for a sharp and dramatic increase in funding for pre-kindergarten programs.
$60 million in new appropriations is being proposed for pre-kindergarten programs serving 3- and 4-year-old children statewide.
State teachers and principals will get a 6% salary increase next year under the budget.
Lujan-Grisham under her budget proposes to increase New Mexico starting teacher pay from $36,000 to $41,000 per year.
Higher pay levels are also being proposed for more experienced educators.
Teacher minimum salary levels for the three-tier licensure program will be raised to $41,000, $50,000, and $60,000 for Tiers I, II, and III, respectively.
The proposed budget raises the minimum salaries for principals to $60,000.
It is proposed that the state’s funding formula for public schools be adjusted so more money would flow to districts with large populations of Native American, disabled and low-income students, along with English-language learners.
For blog articles on the Governor’s proposed budget and the LFC’s proposed budget see:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Critics of the APS mill levy, including the Albuquerque Journal and the conservative anti-tax Rio Grande Foundation, argue that the property tax levy has not been fully justified and will be just another tax added onto all the other taxes that no one can afford.
Critics also say that APS needs to find construction money elsewhere and go so far as to suggest APS sell land or assets that they own in the Albuquerque area.
Selling school property owned outright by APS is shortsighted for a one-time gain given the anticipated growth of the city and infill demands of the city for school district needs.
How many APS schools need to be condemned for code violations or crumble before people realize something needs to be done now?
The Albuquerque Journal, the anti-tax Rio Grande Foundation, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Albuquerque Economic Forum have never seen a property tax that they have supported but always oppose.
The Journal, the Rio Grande Foundation, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the Albuquerque Economic Forum go so far as to oppose the state using the state permanent fund to finance education programs.
All too often, many who are retired and living on fixed incomes resist wanting to pay any and all amount of taxes for public school education because their kids are fully grown and they feel they have already done their part over the years.
Every generation must be fully committed to future generation’s education.
What is involved with the APS ballot initiative is a property tax, and not a regressive gross receipts tax that everyone pays and that has a greater impact on low income earners.
Real property owners are called upon to fund education needs because they far more likely to be able to afford paying the tax.
One of the biggest criticisms against the ballot initiative is that APS has mismanaged their operating budget, it is top heavy with managers, high salaries and there is a significant waste of resources.
All the projects that will be funded are all capital improvement projects meaning that they are not a part of the APS operating budget which is funded by the state’s funding formula per child.
The 34 projects are investments in tangible assets, brick and mortar projects, not management and personnel.
Because of the extent of the number of schools that have depreciated and deteriorated and exceeded their useful “shelf life”, the APS school system and the citizens of Albuquerque are now confronted with a financial dilemma, refurbish or tear down and rebuild many of our public schools.
As is the case with any building, private and publicly owned, APS schools and facilities age and eventually have to be torn down and rebuilt, as was the case with Del Norte High School in the last few years.
All too often, remodeling and renovations in the long run are far costlier to bring a building up to code and it is more practical and economically responsible to tear down and rebuild.
A number of the schools listed, especially the elementary schools, are so old they are falling apart for lack of maintenance, upkeep and age.
APS has been generating as much as 70% of the commercial construction in the city over the past decade.
There is little doubt that the passage of all three questions would be a major infusion to the city’s economy, local businesses and to the construction industry, and the many jobs these projects will support.
Construction costs have skyrocketed and will in all likely continue to rise as years pass.
Repeatedly from the business community you hear the argument that economic development efforts and attracting new business to Albuquerque requires a successful education system.
Governor Mitchell Lujan Grisham’s commitment and the New Mexico Legislature’s commitment to finally fund our education system to address our education problems is a big part of the equation to improving our education system in the state and in Albuquerque.
The voters of Albuquerque need to complete the equation and vote to refurbish and rebuild our aging schools by voting FOR all three ballot questions.
New Mexico’s kids and getting an education in a safe and secure environment is at stake.
POSTSCRIPT ON MAIL IN BALLOT
All registered Bernalillo County voters are being mailed ballots by the Bernalillo County Clerk that must be returned before February 5, 2019.
In the mailing, voters are sent two envelopes.
One envelop is the “Official Inner Envelope” that you place your ballot in after you fill in your vote.
You must use black ink only to fill in the vote area on the ballot
The other envelop you put the ballot envelope into.
YOU MUST PRINT YOUR NAME AND YEAR OF BIRTH ON THE “RETURN ENVELOPE” YOU MAIL BACK THE “OFFICIAL INNER ENVELOP” THAT CONTAINS YOUR BALLOT.
YOU MUST SIGN THE OATH THAT YOUR A REGISTERED VOTER ON THE RETURN ENVELOP.
IF YOU DO NOT SIGN THE OATH, YOUR VOTE WILL NOT BE COUNTED.
There have been past elections where literally thousands of mail in ballots not signed have been thrown in the trash and not counted. You must mail your ballot in before February 5, 2019.
For a sample ballot, go to https://www.bernco.gov/uploads/files/Clerk/APS-Feb-05-2019%20Sample%20Ballot.pdf