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APS approves FY 21 budget, calendar shift

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

On Monday, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education approved a $1.47 billion budget for fiscal year 2021. But it comes with a glaring asterisk: The spending plan could change dramatically depending on the results of a special session in which lawmakers will discuss the state’s fiscal situation amid an oil and gas bust and the COVID-19 pandemic.

While a balanced budget will be submitted to the state Public Education Department, APS was facing a $10 million shortfall even before the special session. A 1,649 student enrollment drop was a big factor.

To combat the shortage, district departments were tasked with trimming their budgets by at least 10%, which saved $6.67 million. But a $3.6 million shortage remained.

“To the best of our ability, classrooms were protected and reductions absorbed at the administrative level,” the budget steering committee wrote in a letter to the community.

Teresa Scott, executive director of Budget and Strategic Planning, said FY20 savings – including utility savings from school building closures and unfilled staff vacancies – will end up covering the $3.6 million.

Scott’s presentation warned that since cash savings are being used to balance the budget, future reductions will have to be considered for a long-term fix.

The budget did not include furloughs, which was previously thrown out as a possibility during the planning process.

“The departments opted to give up vacancies rather than furloughs,” Tami Coleman, chief financial officer, told the Journal.

However, she said all options will be considered in the future during and after a special session.

APS’ budget plan includes an average 4% pay increase for education employees, though the raises could be affected by a special session, too.

And Coleman said an expansion of arts in elementary schools was paused, adding that the budget team is waiting to see what lawmakers do in coming weeks.

Also on Monday, the board approved shifting to one, traditional calendar in the 2020-2021 school year for the majority of schools with the goal of uniform operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision means all schools will start on the same day – tentatively August 12 – and avoids a scenario in which some kids go back to school earlier than others.

Coleman said this will result in administrative savings as well.

According to APS documents, 85% of the district’s schools are currently on the traditional calendar. However, district officials wrote in a news release that 21 schools will be affected by the shift, “including 15 that voted to extend the school year by 10 days and another six that had been on an alternative calendar.”

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