On Monday May 6, 2019, the Albuquerque Public School (APS) Board voted unanimously to seek voter approval on the November 5, 2019 election ballot of a mill levy and bonds for school maintenance, education and music equipment, technology and school security. The mill levy if passed will generate $190 million over six years and $100 million in general obligation bonds will be issued over four years for capital projects and needs.
In February, voters rejected 3 separate, much larger initiatives, including the renewal of an expiring mill levy for maintenance and upgrades aging facilities. In February voters overwhelmingly struck down APS’ two mill levy questions and bond issue in a mail-in election. Those ballot initiatives would have brought in $900 million over six years in part through a tax increase. APS would have raised its tax rate from 10.45 to about 12.45, a 19% rate increase that would have result in a 4.7% uptick on residents’ total property tax bills.
$190 million is a far cry from $900 million and with no new taxes! Unlike the February failed mail in ballot initiative, there will be no property tax increase. What APS will be asking for is to re-establish the mill levy for school maintenance, repairs, education and music equipment, technology and school security with the existing mill levy set to expire later this year. Without replacing that mill levy, there will be no funding to repair the 142 facilities APS operates.
APS is projecting that a total of $302 million in election revenue, including state matching money, will be generated if voters approve the single measure. According to APS officials, $114 million in “capital improvement revenue” will be generated and go toward maintenance and operations and include a projected $13.5 million for school security and $85.5 million for design and construction of school facilities. Capital improvement revenue is separate from the APS operational budget and cannot go toward operational issues such as teacher or staff salaries.
The APS Board also voted to re prioritize funding voters approved previously and redirect money to higher priority projects that can be completed right away instead of going toward planned projects that won’t have enough money to be finished due to the failed February election. The APS Board identified 12 projects as priority construction projects, including work on bus depots in the district and new classrooms for Career Enrichment Center and Early College Academy and Navajo Elementary School.
Scott Elder, the APS Chief Operations Officer for all APS facilities was blunt about what will happen if the new initiative fails at the polls:
“The loss of maintenance, technology and equipment is a pretty significant and tremendous burden … If [voters] do not continue to impose this mill, we do not have the money to maintain our facilities.”
APS IN A NUTSHELL
Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is New Mexico’s largest school district and among the top 40 largest school districts in the nation APS operates 142 schools consisting of 4 K-8 schools, 88 elementary schools (K through 8th grade), 27 middle schools (6-8th grade), 21 high schools (9th to 12th grade) and 2 alternative schools. The average age of an APS school is 50 years old, with many needing serious repairs, new roofs, plumbing and upgrades along with enhance security measures. APS employs 14,000 total employees consisting of 12,000 full time employees, 6,063 teachers and librarians and 1,800 teacher aides.
APS serves more than a fourth of the state’s students, 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. The school district serves 29,000 breakfast per school day and 41,000 lunches per school day.
CITY GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS ALSO ON NOVEMBER 5, 2019 BALLOT
The Albuquerque City Council is placing $127 million in general obligation bonds on the November 5, 2019 ballot for voter approval.
Over $53 million is being proposed to be put into community facilities that includes:
• $13 million toward the historic Rail Yards property through 2029.
• $11 million for various projects at the Albuquerque Museum over the next decade.
• $7 million to a new APD southeast substation at Kathryn and San Mateo.
• $7 million for a year-round homeless facility.
• $5.5 million for the International District Library.
• $5 million in funding for Family & Community Services Section 8 Affordable Housing.
• $2.8 million for Community, Health, Social Services Centers.
• $2.5 million for a new exit off I-25 to Balloon Fiesta Park.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
In February when voters overwhelmingly rejected Albuquerque Public Schools’ two mill levy and one proposed bond questions, they not only rejected funding for the district’s future capital improvement master plan but the critical and necessary funding of $190 million to repair and maintenance of the 142 aging APS schools. The APS school system went into a major tail spin and it does not have much of a choice to try again to get voter approval for school maintenance and security. Voters in November will in essence be asked to decide between building a homeless shelter, a community library, fund museum projects, make road repairs and clean up the Albuquerque Rail Yards versus providing funding to maintain and repair aging and deteriorating APS public schools.
APS desperately needs the funding for maintenance and repairs of aging school facilities. APS needs the tax funding for maintenance and repairs just as much as the city needs general obligation bond funding for capital improvement projects. It is not a sure bet that voters will go along with both on the same ballot. The November 5, 2019 ballot will be a “consolidated” ballot and will have city, sate and APS issues on the ballot and it will not be a “mail in ballot” as was the February, 2019 APS ballot initiatives.
Mayor Tim Keller, the City Council, the APS School Board and APS administration need to confer with each other and come up with a winning strategy to ensure all measures are successful in the November 5, 2019 election.