Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
From replacing entire schools to making sure others comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements to library equipment. Those are among Albuquerque Public Schools’ capital master plan priorities.
And during a special, mail-in election in February, voters within the school district boundaries will be asked to approve revenue streams to get roughly $1.2 billion worth of work done over six years.
In 2022, voters will also be asked to approve $200 million in bonds from the same list of projects to complete the plan.
When voters check their mailboxes early next year, they can expect a combined ballot from APS and the city of Albuquerque.
For the school district, the ballot will ask if they are for or against two tax questions and one bond question.
On the ballot
The ballot – approved at a Nov. 7 Board of Education meeting on a 6-1 vote, with member Peggy Muller-Aragón voting against – first asks voters to approve the Public School Capital Improvements Act Tax question.
That would renew a mill levy that is about to expire. Since the mill levy has been in place for about six years, property owners would not see an uptick in taxes. Rather, it would keep the tax at the same amount: $2 per each $1,000 of net taxable value of property, according to the ballot. If voters reject the levy, the property tax would expire.
If voters approve the tax questions, APS’ rate would go up 19 percent, from 10.45 to 12.45. As a result, residents could expect their combined property taxes to go up an average of 4.7 percent.
For a homeowner with a home valued at $220,000 – with a $73,333 net taxable value – the property tax would increase an estimated $147 a year from about $766 to about $913, according to APS.
Kizito Wijenje, executive director of APS’ capital master plan, said if voters don’t approve this property tax increase, the rate would stay the same.
“It would be a loss of an extra $103 million in extra anticipated revenue,” he said.
Lastly, residents will decide if APS can issue up to $200 million of general obligation bonds.
The total special election revenue would go entirely toward APS’ capital master plan priorities while adhering to boundaries imposed on the money per law, Wijenje said.
Design and construction
About half of the money would go toward traditional capital expenditures like building design and construction.
Based on an independent technical review and internal need, APS identified 11 new projects that require improvements, ranging from an entire school replacement to new classrooms and offices.
For instance, Van Buren Middle School has been identified for school replacement – a total projected budget cost of $33.84 million – whereas La Mesa Elementary School needs about $16 million for renovations and classroom replacements.
The technical review also targeted 23 projects that voters approved funding for in 2016. But some of the projects were only approved for design funding and now need construction money; others need more money than expected for the project.
Scott Elder, APS chief operations officer, told the school board that increased construction and material costs and labor shortages are upping projects’ price tags.
APS also lost a year of project time a few years ago after the school district faced a lawsuit over how it conducted a previous election. A judge at the time halted any new revenue from going to the school district, resulting in ongoing and pending projects either being put on hold or not starting at all, Wijenje said.
Arroyo Del Oso Elementary School’s new building would cost the most out of APS’ 23 ongoing projects with a total budget of $27 million.
APS is not opening any new schools but plans to rebuild 28 existing schools.
“There comes a point where you just can’t pour more money into a car. You just have to replace it,” Elder said. “Same thing with a building.”
Design and construction costs, including the 11 new projects and 23 ongoing projects, would total about $553 million.
APS also aims to set aside more than $11 million in an Americans with Disabilities Act compliance fund to make sure schools are up to par.
Charter schools would be given their own chunk of the money brought in from the special election, as well.
Elder said $106.5 million is projected to be set aside and divided among state and APS-authorized charter schools operating within the APS district.
He said charters get to decide – within legislative limitations – what the money would be spent on based on their school’s needs.
Equipment and technology
The district would also use some of the money for certain equipment and technology expenses.
Roughly $49 million is needed for instructional support and equipment – things like school furniture and classroom equipment.
The cost comes to about $18.5 million for everything from tubas to beakers. That fund would go toward physical education, library, science, music, as well as fine arts and vocational equipment.
Elder said each school would get a percentage of the funding.
“We don’t pick one project over the other,” he said. “Everybody gets some, usually based on student population.”
And $150 million would go toward technology.
Elder said that money would pay for interactive whiteboards, classroom computers, iPads and Chromebooks.
The chief operations officer said that fund provides materials kids need to learn in the 21st century.
“They call it the ‘digital divide,’ and there are children that because of their circumstances just don’t have access at home to the same level of technology that other kids do,” Elder said. “But at school we can balance that.”
About $63 million is on the priority list for things like moving portable classrooms and acquiring property.
Elder said a $9 million property appropriation would be mostly for APS’ West Side expansion.
“As we continue to grow on the West Side and there are more subdivisions put in, we have to look at the possibility of placing schools out there,” he said. “So, we have to have funds to acquire property for those.”
Also included in that $63 million are “district contingencies” for emergencies and cost overruns.
Elder used the roof at Cibola High School as an example.
“We had planned to replace it in this bond election, but it degraded faster than expected. We had to replace it, and it couldn’t wait,” he said.
In its entirety, the capital master plan priorities represent more than $1 billion worth of work the district has planned – about $68 million would come from past election revenue – but if voters don’t approve the ballot questions, Elder said the district doesn’t know what projects would be put off.
Elder said that some things have to come first, like fire protection, but he said the district would have to revisit the priorities after the election if voters don’t vote “yes” on the ballot questions.