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West Side Seat To Add to APS Board

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The seven-member Albuquerque Public Schools board will have at least one new face due to the creation of a new West Side seat.

In addition, four incumbents will try to keep their seats as voters go to the polls Feb. 5.

Also at stake will be two property tax questions that would raise $368 million for some major reconstruction, but the money would mostly be used for maintenance. If approved, the questions would keep property taxes at their current level.

How to vote
⋄  Early voting for the school board and funding election is under way. Early voting is available at APS headquarters on Uptown NE, the Bernalillo County Annex on Tijeras NW, Coors Plaza at 3200 Coors NW, CNM on Basehart Road SE and Rio Rancho City Hall on Civic Center Circle. Early voting operates through Feb. 1, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
⋄  To apply for an absentee ballot, visit www.bernco.gov/mvi or call 243-VOTE.
⋄  Election Day is Feb. 5, and 56 voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Any voter can vote at any center. Visit www.bernco.gov/clerk to see a full list of voting locations.

“I know the projects are sexy – big old schools and big old buildings. But those toilets need to be replaced,” said capital master plan director Kizito Wijenje. “We’ve got plumbing that needs to be redone, conduits that need to be replaced. And that’s not very sexy, but it’s expensive.”

Also on the ballot will be five districted seats on the Central New Mexico Community College governing board. Three of those are contested races.

Last year’s APS redistricting process created a new West Side district and consolidated districts on the east side of town. Steven Michael Quezada, best known as an actor on the television show “Breaking Bad,” is running unopposed in the new district.

In District 6, which covers the East Mountains and parts of the mid-Heights, redistricting means two incumbents are running against each other – Paula Maes and David Robbins. They are joined by Don Duran and Angela Gonzales Carver, making it a four-way race.

Other seats up for grabs are:

♦ District 3, which covers the North Valley and stretches to the Albuquerque High area. Incumbent Lorenzo Garcia faces Candido Arturo Archuleta Jr. and Leah Persons.

♦ District 7, in the Northeast Heights, where incumbent David Peercy faces challenger Larry Langley.

Charter school policy could be ripe for a shake-up, depending on the outcome of the board election. Quezada and Duran, who was once the state’s head official in charge of charter schools, have both spoken strongly in favor of charters. Archuleta has also expressed pro-charter sentiments.

Currently, the board has a mixed relationship with charters. It has invested significantly to help its locally authorized charters get into permanent buildings and nearly always renews the charters of schools that already exist. However, the board has supported a moratorium on new charter schools until certain charter laws are clarified, and it has not authorized any new charter schools in years. Prospective charters in the Albuquerque area are instead chartering through the state Public Education Commission.

The addition of board members with strong pro-charter feelings could shift that balance.

Superintendent Winston Brooks could also gain support with the new board or face harsher criticism, depending on who is elected.

In District 7, for example, challenger Langley calls Brooks’ performance “dismal and disappointing” in a Journal questionnaire, while incumbent Peercy gave him a positive rating.

Bond projects

Property owners now pay about $349 to APS annually for every $100,000 of assessed property value. That will remain about the same if voters approve both funding questions: $200 million in general obligation bonds and $168 million in direct property tax revenue.

The bonds would support some big projects, like completion of the Del Norte High School rebuild and progress on a rebuild of Sandia High. But Wijenje said the theme of this funding cycle is maintaining the schools that are already there. Broadly speaking, the bond question will go toward larger, more long-term projects and the direct property tax question will go toward shorter-term, smaller purchases.

“We’ve got over 13 million square feet of buildings. … That’s a public investment by the taxpayers of Albuquerque, and it has to be maintained,” Wijenje said, adding that 45 percent of the next funding cycle will be purely maintenance.

Money from this cycle also would be used to upgrade technology infrastructure around the district, to ensure all schools have ample bandwidth and electrical infrastructure for online testing and streaming curriculum.

“In some of our older schools, they weren’t built to accommodate Promethean boards, and all of the technology that a 21st-century classroom can hold,” said APS Chief Financial Officer Don Moya. “We’re putting in additional outlets, making sure the proper cable is run and dropped in all of the classrooms, those kinds of things.”

Officials said Monday that APS has not calculated how much taxes would decrease if the questions fail. But taxes would decrease slowly over time as the district gradually retires bond debt.

Voting schedule

Early voting for the election began Jan. 11, and election day is Feb. 5. As of midday Friday, the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office had mailed out 459 absentee ballots and had 307 in-person votes. That brings turnout so far to about 0.2 percent.

School board election turnout is historically low, and two years ago it was 3.2 percent. The state Constitution prevents school board elections from being held in conjunction with any others.

There have been efforts over the years to amend the constitutional requirement that school board elections be held on their own. In the current legislative session, Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, have introduced a resolution to amend the state Constitution so school elections could be held at the same time as other nonpartisan elections.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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