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Editorial: APS learns a hard lesson, heads back to its voters

It’s what the state’s largest school district should have done in the first place.

Albuquerque Public Schools’ new funding ask – a $190 million mill levy and $100 million bond package this November – is far more justifiable than the disastrous $900 million ballot issue voters shot down decisively in February.

In that botched affair, the district asked voters to increase district residents’ combined property taxes an average of 4.7%. Concerned about the sticker shock to residents already suffering from tight budgets and tax fatigue, the Journal recommended passage of the $190 million mill levy, which would not have increased taxes – but not for the two bond measures, which would have raised around $710 million and boosted APS’ tax rate by almost 20%.

The entire ballot failed spectacularly. As a cherry on top, the Journal learned APS leaders had paid $21K for a poll that showed the measures would likely fail, but they charged ahead with a million-dollar special election, anyway.

That was then. This is now, and APS appears to have beaten a hasty retreat to practicality.

There’s no doubt the district – one of the largest in the nation, with more than 80,000 students, albeit an enrollment in decline – has significant infrastructure needs. The money sought now would be used over several years for school maintenance, education and music equipment, technology and security upgrades.

And while property taxes should have gone down with that February no vote, which retired some bonding capacity, this November request should put district taxpayers back where they were before the administration’s exorbitant request.

This balance of school needs with taxpayer ability is the fiscal responsibility the public has been looking for.

Rio Rancho Public Schools is taking a similar tack, but right from the start. According to Sunday’s Rio Rancho Observer, the growing district will ask voters to OK a $60 million bond package this November.

No special election. No tax increase.

It’s not that the district doesn’t have needs that outstrip its funding. RRPS Chief Operations Officer Mike Baker told the school board “we could easily have $100 million of projects.” Yet, RRPS opted to live within its taxpayers’ means.

If approved, this bond issue would go to replacing HVAC systems, funding expansions for high school career-technical programs and updating the computer network system.

There are months to go before either election, but both requests are for needed, often deferred, maintenance to keep metro-area K-12 public school classrooms safe and comfortable for students and educators.

If only APS had saved its taxpayers more than $1 million and chosen this route in the first place.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.