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Councilor: City shouldn’t pay for APS programs

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque city councilor wants the city to stop funding APS-related programs, a move he says could free up about $3.4 million for other priorities.

Included on the list are school crossing guards who are currently paid through the Albuquerque Police Department and the renowned Homework Diner, which has been expanded locally and replicated in 15 other states.

City Councilor Dan Lewis

Dan Lewis

Councilor Dan Lewis, a Republican who is running for mayor, floated a proposal during Monday night’s City Council meeting that would have put Albuquerque Public Schools on notice that the city would “no longer provide general operating funding for programs that directly or indirectly support Albuquerque Public Schools” effective July 1, 2018. Lewis ended up not introducing his budget amendment, saying the city could take up the proposal over the next year.

“It’s not a comment about these programs and if they’re worthy of funding or not,” Lewis said during the meeting. “It’s really more of, I think, a good discussion that we should probably have at another time regarding who should be funding it.”

Council President Isaac Benton and Councilor Don Harris thanked Lewis for raising the issue, with Benton saying it’s an important discussion for the council to have.

The item came up during the council’s budget deliberations amid discussions about what the city could do to provide higher pay for police officers.

Lewis noted that the APS budget is twice the size of the city budget. He said the city is spending millions of dollars subsidizing programs that could be covered by APS.

The council approved a $530 million operating budget Monday night. By contrast, the APS board approved a $1.3 billion budget last month, though district administrators struggled to cover a $13 million budget gap.

“The question is, will this council and will the next mayor propose the kinds of budgets that put the priority on public safety?” Lewis told the Journal. “… As taxpayers, would you rather the city take the money out of public safety or would you rather APS manage its budget better and manage for these types of school programs. This is about APS managing its budget.”

In a written statement Tuesday, APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy advocated for continuing the funding, saying that through the years, the partnership between APS and the city has “worked to keep our children safe, support our families, and provide opportunities for youth entering the workforce.”

“Whether it be crossing guards at elementary schools, internships and apprenticeships for high school students, or after-school programs that accommodate and support working families, the district and city have successfully collaborated to improve the quality of life for so many Albuquerque residents,” she said.

Some of the programs identified by Lewis for elimination of city funding were championed by Mayor Richard Berry, including the Homework Diner, Running Start for Careers and the International Baccalaureate program.

Berry said the city should continue to support those programs, “which all have been hugely successful, garnering national recognition and financial assistance.”

Running Start for Careers is a program Berry started that gets students into apprenticeships and provides industry-taught classes. Homework Diner brings students, parents and teachers together to tackle class assignments and enjoy a free hot meal. The International Baccalaureate program is a two-year program for juniors and seniors, located at Sandia High. The challenging curriculum is accepted at colleges around the world and includes in-depth research and a community service component.

“My Running Start for Careers program has a 98 percent graduation rate for its students, exceeding both state and national statistics earning the program the title of 2015 Top Innovation in Government by the Harvard Ash Center,” Berry said in a statement. “By funding proven programs like these, the city is able to augment the education to career pipeline for our citizens by creating better outcomes for our youth, resulting in stronger community and economy.”

José Muñoz, executive director of the ABC Community School Partnership, said city funding for the programs identified by Lewis is crucial.

“There are way deeper implications than were thought out,” he said. “It will be a bad idea simply because it will hurt people.”

Muñoz said the ABC Community School Partnership facilitates the distribution of funding for the Homework Diner, and the Elementary and Middle School Initiative/Charter EMSI, a before- and after-school program in high-poverty schools. He said the Homework Diner provides services to 500 to 600 kids a week. The EMSI program, he said, gives students in 90 neighborhoods a chance to be in a safe and supportive environment while their parents are working.

“It’s not an APS program at all,” Muñoz said. “Yes, it’s housed at APS facilities, because that’s where kids are when we’re working.”

He said city funding serves as a catalyst, allowing organizations that run the programs to tap into other funding. He worries that elimination of city funding for the programs will have a domino effect and result in the programs being axed.