APS facing 'significant' cuts as enrollment drops - Albuquerque Journal

APS facing ‘significant’ cuts as enrollment drops

Students board a school bus Monday at Los Ranchos Elementary School on 4th NW. APS faces a 5% staff reduction in response to a budget deficit. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools needs to trim about 5% of its staff in the coming school year in response to an enrollment-driven deficit estimated at about $17 million, Superintendent Scott Elder said Monday.

The district hopes to avoid layoffs, but employees may need to change jobs or schools in the coming year, Elder said in a phone interview.

In all, APS will need to cut about 300 staff positions districtwide, Elder said. APS currently has about 200 vacant positions, he said.

“It’s pretty significant,” Elder said of the staff reduction. “We’ve never had to do anything like this in my time at APS, and I’ve been around since ’91.”

The looming budget deficit is driven largely by a dramatic decline in enrollment at APS during the current school year. The district’s operating budget for next school year will be determined chiefly by current-year enrollment.

The district’s enrollment dropped by about 5,500 students in the 2021-22 school year, Elder said.

The decline was driven both by the COVID-19 pandemic and a long-term decline in school-age population over the past several years.

Since the 2015-16 school year, APS enrollment has declined from more than 85,000 to about 73,000 this year, according to APS data.

As a result, APS’ $118 million operating budget is expected to decline by $17.5 million in 2022-23, Elder said. About 90% of the operating budget goes to salaries and benefits.

“When you’re talking about a significant budget reduction, there’s really no way to do it without impacting salaries,” he said. “And what that means is you have to eliminate positions.”

Elder emphasized that the deficit will have no impact on the increase in teacher pay passed this year by the Legislature.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill into law this month that will increase starting pay from $40,000 to $50,000 for teachers statewide in the upcoming school year. APS has about 6,000 teachers.

“It’s really important to remember that those raises were allocated specifically as raises,” Elder said. “We can’t move that and use it any other way.”

Some teachers and staff may be asked or encouraged to work at new schools in the coming year. APS plans to hold “transfer fairs” in April and May to help place employees in schools where they are needed, Elder said.

How APS responds to the staff reductions will be up to individual schools to a large extent, Elder said.

“I think schools are going to have to be creative in terms of how they offer some of their content,” he said.

Schools could consolidate enrollment in classes that have small enrollments, he said.

For example, if an advanced placement class doesn’t attract enough students, the school could offer the class to students from other schools, either in-person or virtually, he said.

Schools may also need to consolidate low-enrollment classes in advanced math or science.

“It’s something we will have to work out kind of on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Without offering specifics, Elder said APS also may have to curtail some services it offers to students.

“When you think about the totality of what a school district does, it’s not just educating kids any more,” Elder said. “We feed them, we clothe them, we provide health and mental health services.

“There are some resources that we’ve provided that we just may not be able to provide next year,” he said.

Elder declined to identify particular services that may be cut or curtailed.

“I’m not going to name any because I haven’t heard for sure what might not be there, and it would be premature for me to say anything,” he said.

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