It is the tough discussion Albuquerque Public Schools has needed to have for years — how best to deal with the district’s declining enrollment and aging infrastructure while better serving metro-area students from pre-K to 12th grade.
The plan APS administration released last week is impressive in its thoroughness to weigh both human and campus capital. While community input will be important, at the end of the day all students deserve schools with state-of-the-art facilities and vibrant classrooms, and taxpayers deserve to know they are paying for quality facilities and educations.
And as the N.M. Legislative Finance Committee recommended last April, that will entail some consolidation and repurposing at minimum. This is the same APS that has gone from close to 89,200 students 10 years ago to about 71,100 students today.
The plan has the most impact on nine elementaries and four middle schools, with the longest adjusted commute around 3 miles. Three of those elementaries — Duranes, La Luz and Kirtland — would be repurposed into early childhood centers run and funded by APS. Two of the middle schools — Polk and Taft — would be repurposed into different learning communities as well. Six other elementaries, two middle and two high schools are also being considered for boundary changes. (Read our full coverage at ABQJournal.com.)
Part of the plan converts three low-enrollment elementaries into early childhood centers. Sounds good. But APS Board Secretary Courtney Jackson does pose a good question: “if these are elementary schools that we can’t fill with elementary school children, how likely it’s going to be that we can fill them with pre-K?” APS responds with the statistic that of the roughly 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Albuquerque, only about 2,800 are receiving early childhood education.
So there clearly appears to be a need for more quality early childhood care centers. The plan does not address specifically how they would be funded, instead saying it is up to the board to decide. But one would think APS could tap into the state’s increased funding for early childhood education.
District officials also should consider Board of Education Vice President Peggy Muller-Aragón’s suggestion of selling or leasing buildings to other entities — be they developers, charter schools or private preschools. Would this make more fiscal sense, especially considering the condition of some of the buildings?
That said, while we absolutely sympathize with neighbors who love their local school, and parents and grandparents who wax nostalgic over generations walking down the same halls, the metrics APS is using promise to deliver better facilities, student bodies and educations to students. The campuses being looked at for closure/repurposing are older, in worse shape and/or less energy efficient and have fewer students, more classrooms in trailers, cost more per student to operate and are in neighborhoods that have been transitioning to commercial areas for years. The APS administration has taken a public beating for having older buildings with leaky roofs, broken air conditioning systems and lead pipes at water fountains.
Meanwhile campuses the district has recently spent more than $10 million on, that have high student enrollment or a large percentage of special education students were taken off the table. Schools with a high number of low-income students and/or high academic performance were also less likely to be considered for closure/repurposing.
These metrics show the district has an understanding not just of the fiscal bottom line, but the bottom line for struggling families and successful education programs as well.
Superintendent Scott Elder is 100% correct APS can’t keep doing “the same thing over and over.” So it is essential the district gets real on population statistics and projections as well as bottom lines. The reality is our state population and birth rates are declining and there are only so many students to go around. That means this plan most likely is a first step in a long-term plan for future consolidations.
Still, more students will likely enroll in APS if it can claim every campus has quality facilities, successful programs and healthy student enrollment.
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.