Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Public Schools has acknowledged that its proposed construction of an employee health clinic is dead.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said this week that the clinic is not in a design phase, that there are no funds set aside to build it later and that pursuing construction of an employee clinic “is not a priority at all right now.”
Voters approved the $4.9 million clinic in a February 2016 bond and mill levy election; however, that money has not been collected, she said. APS receives only one-sixth of the approved funds each year for six years under a continuous collection cycle.
“If it turns out that in three or four years, there is a dramatic change in health care or huge increases in APS employees, or if insurance companies change policies, then we could re-visit the question at that time,” Armenta said.
In the weeks before the election, APS officials estimated the yearly operational cost of the clinic at $1.5 million. Revised estimates subsequently put the operational cost at about $2.7 million the first year, rising to about $4 million by year four.
The clinic proposal came at a time when APS was dealing with a $9.5 million budget shortfall.
Detractors panned the project as too costly, a diversion of funds that could be used for teaching students and providing in-class resources, and an unnecessary duplication of health services already available to APS employees through two district insurance plans.
Albuquerque attorney Robert Pidcock said Wednesday he was particularly pleased to learn that APS had abandoned its pursuit of an employee health clinic.
Early on, Pidcock filed a lawsuit contending that APS violated state law in its bond and mill levy election in several ways.
He charged that APS changed the rate of the tax mill levy 12 days before the election, while state law requires ballot questions be published at least 50 days before an election.
APS, he said, engaged in “logrolling,” the practice of combining unrelated issues in one ballot question. Rather than giving voters the opportunity to approve or reject specific capital projects, such as the health clinic, they were forced to accept or reject all the projects as part of a single package.
The lawsuit also maintained that the $4.9 million health clinic did not fit the description of a “school building” under state law and therefore was not eligible for bond funding.
“I just felt it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money,” Pidcock said, adding that APS teachers and employees “were calling me constantly telling me they supported the lawsuit, and were unlikely to use it because APS would then have access to their health records and health history.”
Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash, who heard the arguments, interpreted case law as requiring her to give deference to the election results, in which 65 percent of voters approved the funding measures. Pidcock then appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. “They refused to hear it, so the case just died.”
Nevertheless, Pidcock said, he believes the lawsuit ultimately factored into negative public opinion about the clinic, as well as the APS decision to back off from the project.
“He’s entitled to his opinion,” Armenta said. “The mere fact that the bond passed with such favor indicates that the public continues to support APS when asked and when it matters.”