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Continued enrollment decline hitting APS budget

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools is bracing for an expected multimillion-dollar loss of funding in the fiscal year 2020 budget, caused in part by another hit to enrollment.

Teresa Scott, executive director for budget and strategic planning, told the Board of Education on Monday that enrollment is expected to drop by 1,300 students in FY20.

Scott said the estimated dip will likely cost the district about $5 million because the state’s school funding formula is based on how many students are in a district.

The projected FY20 enrollment drop is in addition to a more than 1,600-student decline seen this fiscal year.

For the 2018-19 school year, there were 81,759 students enrolled in APS, excluding charter schools – a roughly 3 percent decrease from the year prior, according to APS data. Ten years ago the district’s enrollment was 91,558.

Chief Information and Strategy Officer Richard Bowman told the Journal one trend that is in play in the decline is shrinking kindergarten classes.

For the past three to five years, fewer kindergarten students have been coming to APS, and that is trickling into other grade counts, he said.

“(As a result) we have this prevailing trend of enrollment drops,” Bowman said.

In the 2013-14 school year, there were 7,449 students enrolled in kindergarten. In 2018-19, that number was 5,964.

Bowman said he thinks the kindergarten numbers indicate there are fewer kids entering APS altogether, versus the district losing existing students.

There’s been a long-standing theory that the APS’ enrollment fall has been due to a spur in charter enrollment. But Bowman and APS Board of Education President David Peercy said they don’t believe that’s the case.

“It’s not that charters are taking kids. It’s that we have fewer kids,” Bowman said.

Peercy echoed this, saying birth rate decreases found in New Mexico Department of Health data back this up.

Scott told the board there are about 14,500 students in Albuquerque-based charter schools and that number is projected to remain the same next fiscal year.

Peercy said there’s an exodus issue at hand, too.

He said he suspects people could be leaving the state for job opportunities, which would be a factor in APS’ enrollment drop.

However, enrollment isn’t the only factor that could affect the budget the district is preparing for.

The district also anticipates an additional $12 million in expenses.

For instance, expanding art and music classes for elementary schools – a district wide initiative – will cost $1.4 million in FY20.

Also, APS plans to continue a teacher residency program that was funded through a grant that has run out. That will take half a million dollars of operational money.

With the Legislature in session in Santa Fe, other factors that could impact the budget remain up in the air.

Districts would get more money through the state’s funding formula under a $7 billion budget bill that’s moving through the Legislature, but other proposals may cause a decrease in funds for APS.

For instance, salary and minimum wage increases still on the table would affect the APS budget.

And other bills – like class-size waivers expiring or changes to how federal funds are treated in the funding formula – could cost the district more than $27 million, Scott said.

The operational budget planning comes after the defeat of APS’ $900 million mill levy and bond package. District officials have indicated operational money will have to be tapped for facility maintenance because of the loss.

Tami Coleman, chief finance officer of APS, said budget considerations and estimations will be analyzed and built upon until the end of the fiscal year. The district’s tentative date to send the budget for state Public Education Department approval is in June.

The district will accept public input on its budget starting this month until May.