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More than $8.5 million with essentially no strings attached would make a welcome dent in any school district’s brick-and-mortar needs.
But, for Albuquerque Public Schools, which accepted that amount from the state during a Thursday evening board meeting, it won’t be enough to finish everything.
Thanks to legislation passed by lawmakers earlier this year, the money is earmarked for several physical improvement priorities, including security projects, HVAC maintenance and early childhood facility enhancements.
APS has said it needs as much as $12 million to bring all schools up to speed on such physical safety measures as fencing and vestibules. The district has also faced an ongoing struggle to make sure its HVAC systems keep up with seasonal changes, with some classrooms becoming so hot this year that they caused health concerns for some teachers.
But it’s not yet clear how much of the money will go to each project, Chief Operations Officer Gabriella Blakey said, adding the money “will not be enough” to finish all of them.
“This is a very general idea of what … we need money for,” she said. “We didn’t want the money to go to waste, but we also didn’t want to be fast in making a decision.”
On the bright side, this year’s appropriation for school maintenance and repair is larger than normal, Blakey said. The funds also aren’t subject to offsets, or money owed to the state from past appropriations.
That should be good news for APS, since such offsets have become an obstacle for the district.
“We no longer apply for the money from the state because it doesn’t result in anything for us other than more paperwork,” Superintendent Scott Elder said in an August interview. “So, we cover all of this internally.”
APS currently has about a $36.7 million offset, according to a report to the Legislative Education Study Committee earlier this month, meaning they often net awards of $0 when they do apply for capital outlay funds from the state.
Senior Policy Analyst Tim Bedeaux said that APS’ offset – a bloated total that has swelled each time the district has been given money by the Legislature to over six times the amount of the next-largest offset – is a disincentive to apply for such dollars.
“Because Albuquerque has so many legislators and because it’s a very popular thing to give Albuquerque money, Albuquerque now has a disincentive to apply for projects because, if they do, it’ll be reduced by that $36 million,” he said. “So why would they ever apply?”
While a lot of money has already been given to APS, Blakey said there’s over 15 million square feet of facility space that needs to be looked after, and that results in high costs. Last year, work orders accounted for $41 million in costs for the district.
APS is pushing for the state Legislature to make more accessible capital funding available for school safety, and legislative analysts have floated the idea of partially or completely forgiving offsets.
“If I need $12 million, let me apply for $12 million, give me the money so we can get our schools up to adequate standards,” Elder said.