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Budget questions remain as school year approaches

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When it comes to the Albuquerque Public Schools budget, many things are up in the air.

The district is planning for cuts and reallocations in different forms, including the state taking credit for the district’s federal coronavirus relief funding. But the extent of the hits was unknown as of Monday as the district has been waiting for the state Public Education Department to determine the unit value, a crucial figure in determining how much money districts receive from the school funding formula.

PED spokeswoman Deborah Martinez previously told the Journal that the department has been working on setting the new unit value and has until Aug. 1 to do so. “The new unit value is a piece of the mechanism that the state will use to reduce the allocations to schools as a result of reductions to funding that took place during the special session,” Martinez wrote in an email to the Journal.

But Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman said APS does know that it will see a roughly $1 million decrease to the $21 million transportation budget.

The district is looking at applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding and is being fastidious about filling vacancies to help with projected budget shortfalls in the meantime.

OUTBREAK PLANS IN PLACE: While in-person classes are pushed back tentatively until September, districts and the state have plans in place should there be positive cases of COVID-19 at a school. PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak, the state Department of Health will come in, and conduct a case investigation and contact tracing, guiding any shutdowns.

APS said it’s already had to shut down some schools after employees tested positive for coronavirus. On Monday, interim chief operations officer Gabriella Blakey said 14 sites in the district have been affected since March.

“We follow a strict protocol in these cases, working closely with the New Mexico Department of Health to decide whether to close a classroom, a portion of the building, or the whole school and for how long,” Acting Superintendent Scott Elder said in a letter to the public, adding that the school community is informed if a case is confirmed.

During shutdowns, deep cleans occur and electrostatic foggers are used, he said. Blakey added that the district has 972 custodians and is looking to fill 35 vacancies before schools let kids back into the classroom.

MEAL DISTRIBUTION RESUMES: APS will be providing meals for students in the coming days. For the first two Mondays in August, all families can scoop a week’s worth of meals from any of APS’ comprehensive high schools. The district said pick-up times are from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 4 to 5:30 p.m. But starting Aug. 17, the district will move to a ticket system for meal distribution. Families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals can get a free ticket from their school ahead of time. More details are at APS.edu.

APS families who need to fill out a free and reduced-price meal application can do so online. A lot of APS schools automatically qualify, but there is a list of schools on the APS website whose communities need to fill out an application, if eligible.

Shelby Perea: sperea@abqjournal.com

 

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