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Editorial: APS needs to light a fire under schools’ A/C installs, repairs

Ah, the back-to-school season, a magical time of year, replete with sharpened pencils, daring new hairstyles – and, for some Albuquerque students, punishingly hot classrooms guaranteed to take creases out of new khakis.

As Journal writer Shelby Perea reported Saturday, a number of parents and teachers have come forward with concerns about the temperatures in Albuquerque Public Schools classrooms that have either non-functioning cooling systems or no air-conditioning at all.

In the state’s largest school district, with $398.5 million for capital projects this school year, it’s simply outrageous.

It’s outrageous Zachery Sedlak’s 6-year-old is attending his special education program in a metal portable without air conditioning at Pajarito Elementary. Kids in Metro Albuquerque shouldn’t be forced to wear a sheen of sweat through the learning day, as Sedlak has learned his son is.

It’s outrageous seventh-grade teacher Ben Temkin had to dish out money for fans that struggle to keep his classroom at Ernie Pyle Middle School close to a balmy 85 degrees.

And it’s outrageous many others have had to do the same – apparently for years. You can’t leave your dog in your car in Albuquerque in the heat, so why can you put people in a metal box when it’s in the 90s outside? It’s simply near impossible to teach or learn under these conditions.

An APS spokeswoman told Perea air-conditioning units were checked this summer, pumps and motors break, and maintenance crews are responding as quickly as possible.

Yes, equipment does go out, work crews can only be so many places in a day and swamp coolers aren’t that efficient in the humid monsoon season. But that doesn’t mean APS students and teachers should be expected to sweat it out.

Earlier this year, APS’ eyes were much bigger than taxpayers’ wallets – the district asked voters in February to pass several ballot initiatives worth $900 million. The Journal supported just one of the three, the $190 million mill levy renewal for continuing maintenance and the only one that would not have raised taxes.

Stretched-thin voters overwhelmingly gave all three asks a big thumbs-down, and APS’ arrogance at ignoring its own $21,000 poll that said the tax-increasing bond and mill levy were doomed overreaches meant it would have to make do until at least November. That’s when the district gives voters a more modest $290 million plan that doesn’t raise taxes.

So while administrators have had to re-prioritize capital spending – water fountains and faucets that don’t lace the H2O with lead, perhaps? – it should be obvious student and teacher safety and comfort top any school supply list. And that includes providing working air conditioning during the dog days of late summer. Whatever it takes to make that happen, APS leadership should get it done.

APS administrators – who put $22.3 million into a state-of-the-art teacher training facility, and who tried to build a $5 million boutique health clinic for employees only – toil at City Center in Uptown, where we bet the A/C works just fine, thank you very much. They need to remember who they serve. That’s K-12 students and taxpayers who expect those children and teens to get an education without fighting the elements.

The hot, sticky truth is that the six-figure-salary folks in charge of APS and its budget don’t have to work in hot metal boxes. And, come November, no matter how modest its scaled-back bond and mill levy proposals are, that’s the image voters will remember.

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.

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