Albuquerque Public Schools System (APS) is New Mexico’s largest school district, serving more than a fourth of the state’s students and nearly 84,000 students. APS operates 142 schools consisting of 4 K-8 schools, 88 elementary schools (K through 8th grade), 27 middle schools (6-8 th grades), 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.
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.
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”
IMPACT OF FAILURE OF EXTENSION OF TAX MILL LEVY
On February 5, 2019, voters overwhelmingly rejected Albuquerque Public Schools’ (APS) two mill levy questions and a proposed bond that would have raised real property tax bills by 5%. According to media reports, all three questions on the ballot failed by wide margins.
The FIRST and most important ballot initiative that voters said no to involved money earmarked for maintenance of existing facilities. It was to be 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. The funding protects the public’s investment in public schools.
The SECOND ballot initiative that voters said no to involved financing for new facilities and the purchase of needed equipment and technology.
The THIRD ballot initiative voters said no to asked voters for permission to sell an additional $200 million in General Obligation Bonds to be used solely for capital and equipment for the district.
Had all three initiatives past, they would have generated $900 million for APS over the next 6 years to help execute its full capital master plan which included $190 million over 10 years to maintain APS current facilities.
After the failure of the continuation of the mill levy for school maintenance, APS experienced an immediate impact. APS was forced to take discretionary funding which typically go to small projects identified by school administration away from schools to help pay for maintenance projects. The school system used operational dollars to fill the gap.
NOVEMBER 5, 2019 APS ELECTION BALLOT
After voters rejected February’s $900 million mill levy and 2 bond packages, the APS Board decided to put a $290 million proposal before voters in November. On November 5, 2019, voters will have a second chance to continue the mill levy tax they rejected in February.
On the November 5 ballot, APS is seeking voter approval to continue the tax mill levy at the previous amount, which would generate $190 million over six years. APS is also wanting to issue $100 million of bonds over four years. The money being requested is “capital money”, meaning it can only be used for building maintenance and improvements.
APS is asking voters to approve a significantly reduce package with no tax increase. The $190 million-dollar request is a far cry from the February rejected request of $900 million.
APS has identified 23 capital projects for voter approval. The projects include 7 school construction projects, turf fields, school equipment expenses and primarily maintenance work at the schools. In the February election, 34 construction projects had been identified.
$92.3 million in maintenance is the biggest sole cost that the election dollars will go to for aging schools. The maintenance includes heating, ventilation and air conditioning, roof, infrastructure and pipe repairs. Money will also go toward removing lead from aging pipes to ensure safe drinking water. APS has stressed that elevated levels of lead in schools’ water systems has largely been resolved for elementary schools, but the plumbing is still being flagged as a funding priority. APS has moved onto testing water at middle schools and high schools.
The mill levy and bond package also is slated to go towards school equipment and charter schools.
MONEY FOR NEW CLASSROOMS
According to APS Officials, the list of construction projects is based on the level of importance. The repair and classroom construction projects that will be financed are as follows:
$9.4 million for classrooms at Jackson Middle School (APS has started work at Jackson Middle School and its Career Enrichment Center and Early College Academy.
$7.6 million will go toward new classrooms at the Career Enrichment Center and Early College Academy.
$5.4 million for Monte Vista Elementary School.
$25.8 million to Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts.
$8.5 million to Lavaland Elementary School.
$3.9 million to Navajo Elementary School.
$5.7 million for Rio Grande High School for its gym to become Title 9 compliant.
Other projects included are:
$3 million will be allocates for turf fields at 2 high schools, 2 middle schools and up to five elementary schools.
$10 million allocated to bring schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
$12.3 million will go to these School Improvement Funds.
$4.5 million for security projects.
$30 million of the mill levy is required to go to state-authorized and APS-authorized charter schools.
$18 million for bus depots is being proposed. APS is operating buses out of the center of the metro to get buses all over the district and APS is using contractor-owned depots. The goal is to put one bus depots on the West Side, one in the southwest and one in the East Mountain area to cut down on travel time.
CONSOLODATED ELECTIONS BALLOT
The Local Election Act (LEA) was passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 2018. The Local Election Act provides for consolidated local elections to be conducted in New Mexico. November 5, 2019 will be the first consolidated elections for the City of Albuquerque, which will include 4 City Council elections and capital improvement bonds, the Villages of Tijeras and Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Public School Board, CNM, the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control District and the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation Board. Voters will get one ballot for the races that pertain to them when they go to vote based on their voter registration. The Bernalillo County Clerk’s office is administering the consolidated election and the election is not expected to cost the individual entities anything.
For APS, the ballot will have its mill levy, bond package and three APS Board of Education seats: districts one, two and four. Election Day is November 5. Absentee voting begins is October 8. Early voting begins on Oct. 19. The state will cover the cost of the election.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is clear from the reduction of the February bond package from $900 million to $290, or a two thirds reduction, that APS learned a very valuable lesson and has now prioritized the most important projects. The number of projects to be funded has gone from 34 projects to 23 capital projects. All the projects that will be funded are 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. All the 23 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 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. Many of the elementary schools are so old they are falling apart for lack of maintenance, upkeep and age. There is little doubt that the passage and the continuation of the mill levy for school maintenance and repairs is critical.
Property taxes will not increase if voters approve extension of the mill levy but would decrease if the mill levy is not approved by voters. The mill levy is the main revenue source for maintenance of the school facilities. The financing cannot be spent on operational expenses such as salaries.
Voters of Albuquerque are urged to vote ‘YES” on November 5 for continuation of mill levy dedicated to school maintenance.