Spending of federal pandemic aid OK'd by APS - Albuquerque Journal

Spending of federal pandemic aid OK’d by APS

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education approved a proposal Wednesday for the spending of federal pandemic relief funds that will inject $230 million into New Mexico’s largest school district.

APS will submit the application for funding to the state Public Education Department on Oct. 1.

The largest share of the money, more than $90 million, is going to unfinished learning initiatives such as extended contract time for principals at select schools and an expansion of summer educational camps and activities.

Under the proposal, $28 million would be devoted to principal mentorship and extended contract hours for principals at 34 schools, according to APS Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman.

Federal funds will also go to mental health services, charter schools and pandemic-related technology like the purchase of Chromebooks and wireless hot spots.

Though the application outlines the priorities for spending, Board President David Peercy said the approval is for the spending priorities and the board is not approving final spending numbers, which could change over the course of the next three school years.

Coleman also said that she expects the budget to change.

“As we go through this three-year period, undoubtedly, there will be areas that we do want to adjust as we move forward,” Coleman said.

Other spending priorities include $50 million going to budget stabilization to make up for a shortfall in the APS budget following a decline in enrollment.

In May, Coleman told the school board that the district faced a potential $52 million financial loss from the operating budget due to enrollment declining by about 5,200 students.

While the spending plan was approved by the board, board member Barbara Petersen abstained.

Petersen said she questioned the prioritization of certain items and said she would like to see more money going to upgrading HVAC systems.

The proposal sets aside about $16.5 million for HVAC upgrades and evaporative cooler replacements. Funds are also set aside for window replacements and water repiping.

Upgrades to heating and cooling systems have become a repeated topic of concern at recent board meetings, with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation marking an upgrade to those systems as a top spending priority for federal relief funding.

According to ATF President Ellen Bernstein, a recent union survey found that 60% of respondents felt that an upgrade to heating and cooling should be the No. 1 spending priority.

But Superintendent Scott Elder said during the board meeting that a revamp of the heating and cooling systems would take close to the entire amount of federal relief funds.

Elder also said that replacing swamp coolers with new units may not be enough to bring down temperatures in hot summer months and the district may have to instead look at starting the school year in September rather than August.

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