Nearly $2 billion is a lot of money, even for the largest school district in New Mexico.
So instead of approving a budget due to the state Public Education Department by May 31, Albuquerque Public Schools leaders have decided to ask for more time.
On a motion by APS board member Danielle Gonzales, the board voted 4-3 to table a $1.9 billion budget resolution instead of sending it to the PED for review.
Gonzales, Peggy Muller-Aragón, Courtney I. Jackson and Crystal Tapia-Romero voted to table the budget. Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, Barbara Petersen and Josefina E. Domínguez voted against the motion.
“I’m very concerned — very concerned — about that delay,” Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman said.
“I’m very concerned too,” Gonzales replied.
By state law, the budget has to be approved by the board by June 20. It must be finalized by July 1 — otherwise, the district could be forced to close its doors.
Several board members were concerned by the budget’s growth, and they complained about limited information about how the money would benefit the district. Last year’s budget was nearly $1.87 billion.
A “$1.936 billion budget. That is huge,” said Muller-Aragón. “I understand costs … are up, but $1.936 billion when we have 71,000-some children, and I don’t know what kind of effects, either, that there are on programs, on personnel … our Yazzie-Martinez kids.”
Board members questioned where cuts were applied and asked for more specific information. That included particulars on changes to schools’ individual budgets, the number of full-time employees and programs.
“It’s very hard for me to vote ‘yes’ on this budget not knowing what the changes are,” Gonzales said. “I don’t feel that my voice, questions, vision are reflected in this budget … the district has just plowed along, and here we are at the end, asking for us to approve a budget which — I don’t feel that I have the information to feel confident that I’m representing my constituents’ views.”
Coleman said some of those details had been fleshed out in meetings over the last few months, and that Wednesday’s presentation was a culmination of information presented at those meetings.
Superintendent Scott Elder said the budget would shrink as the district continues to right-size and if student enrollment continues to decline.
He said the district has eliminated some 300 positions based on enrollment. That’s involved transplanting teachers into open positions and condensing classes.
“We did it in a way that people got to keep their jobs,” he told the Journal.
The district’s savings from vacancies will be around $7.9 million, planners projected in the budget.
The biggest slice of the pie in the proposed budget is the operational fund, which accounts for nearly 45% of the total budget at over $869 million. Federal grants account for nearly $381 million, just under 20%.
State funding is expected to sharply rise in the coming year, a direct result of raises approved by lawmakers and the governor this spring for teachers and other public education employees. APS received $719.3 million in 2022, and expects to be able to use around $787.4 million in state funds next year.
Next steps, Superintendent Elder said, would be meeting with New Mexico Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus to find out if there is a process to extend APS’ deadline. Elder said he’d already reached out to him, and would speak with him on Thursday.
In the meantime, he said he and budget planners will work on getting the information board members requested so they “feel more comfortable.”
“We need to have the answers going forward,” board member Crystal Tapia-Romero told the district’s finance team. “(It) doesn’t feel good when we have to go and make these hard decisions.”