Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters in Uptown. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuqeuerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

It was a year teeming with difficult decisions for officials at Albuquerque Public Schools.

But in the end, board members approved a nearly $2 billion proposed budget late Wednesday on a 4-3 vote, after tabling it last week – six days ahead of the May 31 deadline to submit it to the New Mexico Public Education Department. The district asked the state for more time, and the PED gave it to the end of this week, an APS spokeswoman said.

On Wednesday, Board members Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, Peggy Muller-Aragón, Barbara Petersen and Josefina Domínguez voted yes on the proposed budget, while Danielle Gonzales, Crystal Tapia-Romero and Courtney Jackson voted no.

Several board members were concerned last week over how much the “huge” proposed $1.936 billion budget had grown from last year’s $1.868 billion. They also questioned where cuts were made in the proposed budget, and asked for more information about changes to individual school budgets, the number of full-time employees and programs.advertisement

On Wednesday, district officials returned with more information on the proposed budget, including staff allocations, “at-risk” funding and programs. They also brought along associate superintendents to provide ground-level insights into school budgets.

Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman said the district had previously made a deliberate effort to “keep cuts away from the classroom.” But this year, several years’ worth of cuts were made and schools are feeling the impact.

According to graphs presented during the meeting, that included 70 support staff positions, 36 elective courses and 27 administrative positions being cut across all grades. Only 16 instructional positions were cut.

Superintendent Scott Elder has said the budget would shrink as the district continues to right-size and if student enrollment continues to decline.

“This is the hardest year we’ve ever been through,” Elder said.

The biggest slice of the pie will be the operational fund, which accounts for nearly 45% of the total budget at over $869.1 million.advertisement

APS is projected to spend $10.3 million more than it will collect this year. That amount is substantially less than it was last year, when the district’s deficit was around $45 million.

The district’s savings from vacancies will be around $7.9 million. That coupled with $2.4 million from APS’ approximately $52.7 million cash reserve will balance the budget.

State funding is expected to sharply rise in the coming year, a direct result of raises approved by lawmakers and the governor earlier this year for teachers and other public education employees. APS received $719.3 million in 2022, and expects to be able to use around $787.4 million in state funds next year.

The district is expecting to spend over $27.6 million on the mandated increase in tier minimums of teacher salaries and over $39.5 million on 7% raises for public education staff. Despite the over $68 million rise in state funds, APS expects increased costs will exceed money from the state by over $12.2 million.

APS employee raises will come in two pieces. First, they’ll get 3% payments for this year’s fourth quarter, which the board approved last week. Those payments, scheduled for July 5, will be added to employees’ base salaries and then followed up with an additional 4% raise next fiscal year.

Those raises will be bumped up if they don’t reach the average $10,000 minimum salary increases for teachers, or the new minimum $15 per hour wage, according to a release from Elder.advertisement

Over $3.5 million is set aside in the proposed budget for other at-risk service providers. During last week’s meeting, Executive Director of Budget Rosalinda Montoya said those included nurses, counselors, social workers and other instructional support providers.

On Tuesday, APS and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation announced a tentative agreement on raises for many instructional support providers. The agreement, which hinged on board approval of the budget, would guarantee some 850 licensed employees would be given the same minimum salary increases that were legislated for teachers earlier this year.

During last week’s meeting, the board also approved emergency money for fuel allocated by the PED. According to a memo from Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval in early May, APS was allocated $467,898 for increased fuel costs in 2022.

Transportation is expected to run the district over $21.4 million. APS estimated fuel cost increases at $373,000.

Some board members still had concerns over the budget planning process and called for more transparency. They added school principals and the board should have more input.

“There’s got to be a different system for doing this, and a more collaborative system as well,” Domínguez said. “There’s going to be more bad news next year, too – we’ve talked about school closures. And I hope that we can get that topic on the table right away.”