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APS may divert $3M for maintenance costs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country, with nearly 145 schools and over 80,000 students, now has a financial plan to maintain facilities for another year after voters recently rejected the mill levy/bond package that included maintenance money for the district.

But APS higher-ups Scott Elder, chief operations officer, and Tami Coleman, chief finance officer, anticipate that up to $3 million will have to be tapped from the operational fund – the pot of money that pays for things such as teacher and staff salaries, and day-to-day expenses.

Voters rejected APS’ entire mill levy/bond package last month in a special, mail-in election.

One of the measures would have resulted in $30 million a year for maintenance and equipment, and would not have raised taxes. Since voters didn’t approve it, APS is having to make do with the current mill levy funding that is still trickling in. That was approved by voters in 2013, but will run out by July 1.

“What we need to look at is both the short- and then the slightly longer-term solutions to fill in some of those gaps,” Elder said at the Capital Outlay, Property, and Technology Committee Meeting on Monday. “The reality is we’re not going to lose maintenance in the public schools.”

In the wake of the election, APS froze spending from school improvement funds, and schools’ athletic, fine arts and music, library and science funds to analyze its fiscal situation. Elder ensured the freeze doesn’t mean an annihilation of programs, saying APS will supplement as needed and where it can.

The chief operations officer noted freezing those funds resulted in over $12 million made available, which APS will use for “life-health-and-safety” maintenance.

However, it costs APS roughly $14.7 million annually for maintenance.

“Additional dollars will have to be recovered from the operational fund,” he said.

Elder told the Journal that $2 million to $3 million will be taken out of that budget. That will likely come from cash reserves, or possibly vacancy savings, he said.

Coleman said this plan will get APS through the 2019-20 fiscal year. But, she added, without a long-term solution, the district “will have to reach very deeply into operational.”

At the meeting, the board discussed re-asking voters to approve the Senate Bill 9 mill levy question.

While the Board of Education hasn’t committed, the soonest APS can go back to voters is November. But the way election law is currently written makes it “technically impossible” because of the tight timeline to pass the mill levy and get it on the tax rolls by the end of the year, which the law requires, according to Capital Master Plan Executive Director Kizito Wijenje.

The proposal presented on Monday morning is exclusively for maintenance.

For APS’ construction projects, the capital master plan committee is doing a re-prioritization and will present that to the Board of Education in the future.

Elder pointed out that capital dollars have legal parameters and cannot be utilized to help with maintenance.