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APS Deficit Worse Than Expected

By Hailey Heinz
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Albuquerque Public Schools' budget deficit next year will be tens of millions of dollars higher than expected, Superintendent Winston Brooks said Thursday.
        At recent meetings and public forums, APS has been saying it faces cuts of about $18.8 million. That number will likely be closer to $40 million, officials said Thursday.
        APS' current budget is about $675 million.
        Acknowledging that the district's budget situation is troubling, Brooks told the Journal on Thursday that he will meet with the school board this morning to talk about possible spending cuts and other solutions.
        Brooks declined to discuss specific cuts he planned to propose, saying he wanted first to talk to the board.
        In December, Brooks said he might have to eliminate vacant positions and move some employees to new jobs if APS' budget was cut much more.
        The district's finances are being squeezed by reduced funding from the Legislature and unexpected benefit costs. In addition, Brooks said the reserves need to be maintained.
        Brooks, who recently returned from a conference of urban superintendents, said many districts nationwide are facing worse budget situations than APS.
        "Although this is bad, it could be a lot worse," he said.
        Brooks declined to discuss the amount in the district's cash reserves. The board has some discretion about how much is kept in reserve, although he said allowing the fund to get too low could affect the district's bond rating and ability to plan for emergencies.
        "We need to have a little money in the savings account," he said.
        APS bolstered this year's budget with federal stimulus money, but that source will not be available next year unless Congress takes action.
        Another $4 million will have to be cut from the budget because the district misjudged the amount employees will contribute to their benefit plans under the Educational Retirement Act.
        APS officials had planned on every employee contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries. However, under the law, employees making less than $20,000 annually won't have to contribute at all. The district will have to make up the difference.
        In addition, the district must pay a higher salary to teachers who advance through the state's three-tiered evaluation system. Those teachers receive mandatory pay raises, which were not initially factored into the budget.
        Deep cuts to education have been a national problem this year as most states face decreased revenues and dramatic budget shortfalls.
        Earlier this month, thousands of Californians marched in protest of sweeping layoffs and other cuts to education.
        Brooks also cautioned that coming years could be even worse for education budgets, since this year's problems were partly solved by one-time federal stimulus funds.

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