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Editorial: APS needs independent pros, not pals, for review

“‘Cause you got to have friends.”

– Bette Midler, 1973 hit single

If your tax dollars funded the nation’s 30th largest district – with 142 schools, 88,000-plus students – and you had concerns you weren’t always getting what you paid for, would you want:

A. A thorough, independent and professional audit of your departments to ensure you know the details of what, if anything, needs to be addressed?

Or B. A free once-over by your pals and colleagues of three of your most publicly criticized departments?

Everybody loves a deal, and Black Friday bargains are just around the corner, but here’s betting New Mexico taxpayers in general and Albuquerque Public Schools taxpayers in particular answer “A”.

Yet acting Superintendent Raquel Reedy has rejected the formal audits of all departments sought by her predecessor in favor of having personnel from other school districts review the finance, information technology and human resources offices at no cost.

It could wind up being a textbook example of you get what you pay for.

Because the Human Resources office is smack dab in the middle of the controversy that prompted the APS Board of Education to hand then-superintendent Luis Valentino an $80,000 parting check after just a few months. That he-said, she-said drama of who told what to whom when with regard to Valentino’s hand-picked deputy, who is expected to be retried on child sexual assault charges in Denver, appears to be the tip of an HR backlog iceberg.

Yet Reedy reached out to former APS employee Mike Houser, now Austin Independent School District’s chief human capital officer, to review her HR department for free – because she knows him.

Is that really the best qualification?

Reviews of APS’ IT and finance departments will be done by a handful of school staff members selected by the Council of Great City Schools, a professional organization made up of 68 urban districts, again at no cost save for travel expenses to Albuquerque.

Yet both departments have faced high-dollar criticism recently. Chief financial officer Don Moya fought Valentino on the audits and remains on paid leave months later. A state audit recently revealed this same department cut the wrong check for an employee every pay period for five years and has yet to get its $60,000 error rectified.

Meanwhile, the district’s expensive payroll system is still underperforming.

Yes, outside audits are expensive. But this is a district with a $1.3 billion operations and capital budget and 14,000 employees. It has spent a huge amount of money recently just firing, hiring and firing top administrators.

There are no specific deadlines for the three reports, and that’s symptomatic of the lack of urgency in ensuring the state’s largest school district is accountable to the taxpayers who fund it.

While everybody may need friends, New Mexico and APS taxpayers need independent professionals to make sure APS is on track.

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.