NM and APS On Verge Transforming Public Education; A “Think New Mexico” Commentary

There are two major political dynamics going on in New Mexico involving the New Mexico Legislature and the Albuquerque Public School System (APS).

The two converging dynamics that complement each other are:

1. The Albuquerque Public School APS property tax levy and bond initiative election for refurbishing, remodeling or replacing aging APS public schools.

2. The dramatic increase in public education funding under consideration by the 2019 New Mexico Legislature.

If both efforts are successful, combined they have the potential of changing the New Mexico public education system for generations and finally ensuring a quality education for New Mexico’s youth.

This article is an attempt to tie in 3 major areas of concern: 1. funding for education, 2. facilities for education and 3. a postscript on the need to get a better handle on APS administration.


The 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.

The election is being conducted by “mail in ballot” and all ballots must be returned to the Bernalillo County Clerk before Tuesday, February 5, 2019, or they will not be counted.


Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is New Mexico’s largest school district, serving more than a fourth of all New Mexico’s students and nearly 84,000 students.
The ethnicity and composition of the APS 84,000 students is worth noting:

65.8% are Hispanic
22.9% are Caucasian/White
5.5% are American Indian
3.2% are African American
2.3% are 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.
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.

The average age of an APS public school is 50 years or more.

APS is seeking a 2-mill levy property tax rate increase and a bond initiative.

There are 3 initiatives on the ballot seeking voter approval.

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.

APS is asking voters for funding for 34 projects over six years costing a total of $900 million that are deemed needed throughout the 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.

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.


Increasing teacher salaries, hiring more teachers and addressing the needs of our kids are the top priority of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s agenda and the New Mexico Legislature in the 2019 legislative session.

At least $500 million in new monies are being proposed for public education over the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019.

Governor Michelle Lujan has submitted a proposed total budget of $7.1 billion for consideration by the 2019 New Mexico legislature that started on January 15, 2019.

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, an 18% increase, and $830.2 million, a 3.3% increase, on higher education.

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.

The Governor is proposing 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.

The New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) for its part released its own budget proposal plan that would increase year to 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.

Both the Governor’s and the LFC budgets call for an increase in the public-school funding formula for at-risk students, including Native Americans, English-language learners and those with disabilities.

Salaries for teachers would go up under both plans.

On January 23, 2019 a Legislative committee voted unanimously to approve a proposal that would incrementally increase minimum salaries for public school teachers and principals.

The proposal calls for the starting salary for Level 1 teachers to rise from $36,000 annually to $45,000 by 2022.

It calls for Level 2 teacher increases from $44,000 to $55,000 by 2022.

Level 3 teacher pay would go from $54,000 to $65,000 by 2022.


For blog articles on the Governor’s proposed budget and the LFC’s proposed budget see:




On Friday, 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 Judge found that it was clear that many New Mexico students are not receiving the basic education in reading, writing and math they should be receiving in our public-school system.

There is no doubt that the District Court ruling played a major role in making public education funding a top priority of both Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature.

As a matter of law, Judge Singleton wrote the “lack of funds is not a defense to providing constitutional rights” and found:

“[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.

Further, 14.8 percent of students have disabilities, and 10.6 percent are Native American.

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 Court found that New Mexico does not have enough teachers and that New Mexico teachers are among the lowest paid in the country and stated:

“The evidence shows that school districts do not have the funds to pay for all the teachers they need. … [An example is] Gadsden, one of the better performing school districts in the state, has had to eliminate over 53 classroom positions and 15 essential teachers since 2008.”


On Jun 26, 2018, it was reported by the 2018 Kids Count Data Book that for the first time in five years, New Mexico has fallen to last among states when it comes to the economic, educational and medical well-being of its children, according to a nonprofit that tracks the status of children in the United Sates.

The most troubling in the 2018 Kids Count Data Book is New Mexico’s steep drop in ranking for health care measures which previously a bright spot for the state.


According to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, 30% of New Mexico’s children were living in poverty in 2016, compared to 19% nationwide that year, the earliest figures available.

In educational measures, the report says 75% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017, compared to 65% nationally, and 80% of eighth-graders were not performing up to par in math in 2017, compared to 67% across the U.S.

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report on United State Public Education systems throughout the nation put New Mexico next to last out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in January, 2018.


Governor Mitchell Lujan Grisham’s commitment and the New Mexico Legislature’s commitment to fund our education system to the levels needed to address our public education system is a major step in reversing New Mexico’s last place showing in education rankings.

State funding for public education for programs and teacher salaries can and must go hand in hand with providing a quality education in a safe teaching environment for students.

All the projects that will be funded by the APS property tax levy and bond initiatives are all capital improvement projects meaning they are an investment in tangible assets, brick and mortar projects, not management and personnel.

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.

Because of the extent of the number of schools that have depreciated and deteriorated, 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.

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 listed for attention, especially the elementary schools, are so old they are falling apart for lack of maintenance, upkeep and age.

Hope springs eternal that the dramatic increase of $500 million dollars or more in public education a year by the State of New Mexico coupled with $900 million expended in capital improvement projects by the Albuquerque Public School System over six years will have a dramatic impact on ensuring that New Mexico’s kids get a quality education in a safe and secure environment.

Let’s hope the New Mexico legislature comes through with the increase in funding for public education and that the voters of Albuquerque recognize that the education of our youth are investments that we have failed to make for too many years.


“Think New Mexico” is a nonpartisan think tank that does not subscribe to any particular ideology and conducts and publishes independent research focusing on workable solutions to the serious problems facing New Mexico.


The mission of Think New Mexico is to improve the quality of life for all New Mexicans, especially those who lack a strong voice in the political process.

Think New Mexico fulfills its mission by educating the public, the media, and policymakers about some the most serious challenges facing New Mexico and develops and advocates for effective, comprehensive, sustainable solutions.

On Sunday, January 27, 2019, the Albuquerque Journal published the following guest column written by “Think New Mexico” Director Fred Nathan entitled “HB 77 will help make sure all those new millions in funding go to classrooms, where learning happens” :

“As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature consider a package of bills to transform New Mexico’s public schools, Think New Mexico urges them to include House Bill 77, which will make sure that a greater proportion of New Mexico’s education funding reaches our students and teachers in the classroom.

The education reform bills being considered by lawmakers were developed in response to last year’s landmark Yazzie/Martinez court decision. In that decision, Judge Sarah Singleton directed New Mexico lawmakers to spend more on education for the state’s most vulnerable students. Judge Singleton also made clear that this additional money must be spent on evidence-based “classroom instruction programs such as quality pre-K, K-3 Plus, extended school year, and quality teachers” that have been proven to make a difference for at-risk children.

In order to accomplish this, New Mexico will need to change the way it spends its education dollars. When Think New Mexico analyzed New Mexico’s education spending, we discovered that in the decade between 2006-07 and 2016-17, more than two-thirds of school districts across New Mexico – 61 of 89 – grew their central office administrative spending faster than their classroom spending.

For example, in the Albuquerque Public Schools, classroom spending increased by an average of 0.8 percent per year over the past decade, while administrative spending grew by 1.7 percent per year. That difference adds up with compounding: between 2006-07 and 2016-17, classroom spending in APS increased by 7.4 percent, while administrative spending increased by 17.5 percent.

Think New Mexico’s research is consistent with the findings of the Legislature’s own finance staff, which recently presented research showing that, statewide, spending on school district general and central administration grew by 34 percent over the past decade – more than twice as fast as classroom spending, which increased by 16-17 percent.

As Gov. Lujan Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal last July, “The administrative overhead in our schools is outrageous.”

The disproportionate growth in administration at the expense of the classroom helps explain why New Mexico’s student performance has continued to lag behind the rest of the nation. Several years ago, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory conducted an extensive study of 1,500 school districts in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. They concluded that high-performing school districts spend a larger percentage of their budgets on instruction and a lower percentage on general administration than lower-performing districts, and they also tend to employ smaller numbers of administrative staff.

To get more money to New Mexico’s classrooms, Think New Mexico drafted House Bill 77, which has been introduced by Democratic Rep. Bobby Gonzales, former Superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools and vice-chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

House Bill 77 would limit the growth of school district central administrative spending to no faster than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the overall growth in the state education budget, whichever is lower. Classroom spending would not be limited. So in years like 2019, when lawmakers are proposing to increase education spending by more than 12 percent and the CPI is about 2 percent, central administration would be limited to 2 percent growth. All the rest of the new money would go to the classroom, where the learning takes place.

Passing House Bill 77 is especially important this year, when lawmakers are proposing to add at least $400 million to the education budget in response to the Yazzie/Martinez ruling. House Bill 77 will greatly enhance the effectiveness of those appropriations by making sure that almost all of the new money will be directed to the classroom.

We encourage parents and families across New Mexico to urge their legislators and Gov. Lujan Grisham to include House Bill 77 in their education reform package. You can learn more about this effort, and email your legislators and the governor from Think New Mexico’s website at: www.thinknewmexico.org.”

Below is the link to the Albuquerque Journal “Think New Mexico” guest commentary:


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.