Editorial: It’s official: APS has to right-size, do better by students - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: It’s official: APS has to right-size, do better by students

The report card is in, and the marks are not good for the state’s largest school district.

Last week, New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee issued one of its periodic reviews of our public schools — the first for Albuquerque Public Schools since 2007. The report was highly critical, laid out the district’s challenges and offered pointed advice, like cutting staff, consolidating classes and spending more for the education of low-income students who fell further behind their classmates this school year.

And it questioned why spending keeps climbing while enrollment plummets.

The district’s operational spending went up 21% from 2012 to 2021, a whopping $126 million. School property has also increased by 21% since 2012. And the district’s workforce has remained relatively flat, dropping 3% in a decade.

And yet enrollment has dropped by 17% over the last decade, a statistic evaluators cited repeatedly in the report. (Lower birth rates and an increase in the popularity of charter schools have led to fewer students; the pandemic making home schooling a real option likely didn’t help APS either). The district has 400 more teachers and staff members than it should, according to the report — an awkward place to be after lawmakers boosted teacher pay during the last session to combat a statewide teacher shortage.

And here’s the real kicker: “Despite more funding, and fewer students, student outcomes in the district remain low and are getting worse,” lead LFC program evaluator Katie Dry told members of the LFC on April 27.

All of this points to the need for a right-sizing, albeit an exercise in “tell me something I don’t know” for APS administrators. They have already eliminated hundreds of vacant positions, moved staff around and announced they might consolidate schools in 2024.

The report also points out APS’ administration costs have increased 37% since 2012, more than the statewide average.

Yet with funding tied to student enrollment, the district is facing yet another projected budget shortfall. Dwindling enrollment in lower grades, along with faltering birth rates, “will mean further enrollment declines in coming years,” evaluators warned.

The report said APS’ spending can be tempered by consolidating classes and overall grades, most of which are under-enrolled. It orders APS to report to the LFC within a year on how it plans “to adjust its facilities footprint to declining enrollment,” which sounds a lot like requiring some schools to close.

Superintendent Scott Elder has already agreed staff needs to be cut. Under the school funding formula for 2022, APS schools should have 8,753 full-time employees; there are 9,169. The real issue is having employees certified in the right areas — the district had 492 more K-12 teachers than the formula called for but 357 fewer special education teachers and educational assistants than recommended. That’s a tough equation to solve, and one APS has struggled with for years.

Ditto for taking advantage of “evidence-based” programs proven to increase student academics.

On April 6, APS board members rejected a proposal to implement districtwide state-funded extended learning time programs that would have added extra days and hours. They cited community disapproval as a factor.

Voters just elected new members to this board in a resounding call to change the dismal status quo. It’s now time members roll up their sleeves, read the report and start implementing the state’s recommendations — for our children’s sakes.

They can start by crafting a five-year plan to manage workforce and physical infrastructure, knowing drops in enrollment and funding are coming. While Elder warned closing schools can create as many problems as it solves, it’s past time for the district to consider how some of these buildings could be used by/leased or sold to a charter school movement that shows no signs of slowing down.

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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