ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Like it or not, we live in a “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”/”Extreme Makeover” world. So when you hear that the former chief financial officer of the state’s largest school district “spent over $850,000 on a remodel and furniture for his own suite of offices” and that furniture “seemed to be nicer than even that of the superintendent’s office,” you just have to check it out.
But a check of the invoices shows that former Albuquerque Public Schools’ CFO Don Moya actually spent closer to $450,000 to remodel and furnish an entire floor-and-a-half at district headquarters (each floor is around 12,000 square feet).
And a tour shows “his own suite” on the third floor amounts to a sparse office, sparser conference room and a foyer with small, lightweight furniture that would look at home in any college dorm.
The original $850,000 rumor, which came from “several different individuals,” was included in the 265-page investigative report by McHard Accounting Consulting LLC into allegations in Moya’s whistleblower lawsuit against the district.
APS officials say they don’t know where that figure came from, but the nicest adjective used to describe him this week was “prickly,” leading one to believe Moya was not the most popular boy in class.
When you hear $850,000, you think bombastic television host Robin Leach – complete with his champagne wishes and caviar dreams – would be at home in APS’ six-story administration building in Uptown, formerly known as City Centre and now officially dubbed the Bruce and Alice King Educational Complex. But in reality, that only works if the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” includes industrial-grade carpeting and gray cubicles.
I toured three floors of APS’ administrative and business offices Monday – yes, it was staffed on the federal holiday marking Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday – and was underwhelmed by what taxpayers bought on the building’s third and fifth floors, as well as what $41,019.31 bought in the sixth-floor executive suite.
Invoices obtained by an Inspection of Public Records Act request show much of the cost was not in materials but in labor. Any government contract for construction in New Mexico by law has to pay the “prevailing” wage, aka Little Davis Bacon, which since a 2009 state law has been determined not by the market but by union collective bargaining agreements.
In addition, APS spokesman Rigo Chavez points out, an enterprise with 15,000 employees and a $687.6 million operating budget can’t just “go dark” for a few weeks during construction work, so the project was drawn out over months as crews worked in sections while keeping departments like payroll and purchasing online.
(Kizito Wijenje, executive director of the district’s Capital Master Plan, says older buildings like this often need abatement crews to tackle everything from asbestos to Americans with Disabilities Act rules – but there was no asbestos involved and no mention of ADA changes.)
On the sixth floor, the bill breaks down to $9,046.04 in materials and $31,973.27 in labor and taxes to move two non-load-bearing walls in the APS superintendent’s office and paint and re-carpet that as well as the chief of staff and deputy superintendent’s offices. No gold-plated bidets or crystal chandeliers.
No fabulous art collection – really no art at all, by pros or students. In fact, almost all the furniture in the so-called executive suite is repurposed, either used by the last person in the office or taken from another part of the building.
Take the elevator down to the finance department on the third floor, and the procurement and accounts payable section of the fifth floor, and get another lesson in government math. Chavez says $332,560 was spent on the remodel of the third and fifth floors, excluding the cubicles. Of that, only $88,496 went to materials. The rest went for labor, taxes and administrative costs.
Tami Coleman is the district’s executive director of accounting and the acting CFO. She says the third and fifth floors were remodeled primarily so procurement and accounts payable, which share a supervisor, could be next to each other to facilitate communications about what the district buys and what it pays for. (And so the 12,000-or-so customers who visit payroll no longer trip on the rippling carpet that had been there since APS bought the building in 2001.)
Move one department and it starts a domino effect that shifts others. But a walk through the areas where budget analysts, payroll clerks, IT, accounting and general ledger folks work reveals more industrial carpeting, more gray cubicles and small conference rooms with small tables and small chairs. All very serviceable, utilitarian, and, well, frugal-looking.
Which is not what taxpayers would expect from that six-figure tab.
Chavez says “the whole purpose (of the major remodel) was to make us more efficient” and Coleman says the new setup is “much more efficient for everyone to operate in” with the added bonus of giving the district support staff “a little better working environment.”
As for voters who are so upset by the expense of remodeling of the adult workspaces that they are considering rejecting a $575 million mill levy/bond proposal for school construction, Chavez says, “There has to be money for remodeling all areas. People have to work (in the administration building) to be able to support the schools and students and teachers.”
And a tour Monday found they are working – on a holiday, in gray cubicles, with new paint and industrial carpeting and no Extreme Makeover in sight.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.