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Editorial: APS bonds too important to kids and economy to fail

Considering the frequency and accuracy that Albuquerque Public Schools has demonstrated when it comes to shooting itself in the foot, the district has some major work to do if voters are going to trust the school board and administration with $575 million from a proposed bond/mill levy issue.

This second phase of APS’ Capital Strategy Plan would address myriad needs at traditional and APS-authorized charter schools, including two new schools to relieve overcrowded Ventana Ranch, Painted Sky and Jimmy Carter elementaries, repairs for leaky-roofed Lavaland and Hubert Humphrey elementaries, updated gyms at Highland, La Cueva and Rio Grande highs, as well as bus depots, computer updates and appropriate classroom spaces for Pre-K and kindergarten students. It will also provide a $575 million boost to the construction industry and the city’s economy.

Kizito Wijenje, executive director of APS’ capital master plan, says “without this (bond), not only would we not be able to operate adequately, we would not be able to operate at all in some cases. … the schools are not only aging, they are not appropriate anymore for instruction.”

Despite the clear need for these projects, most of which are directed at students, it will be hard to stop the bleeding of public confidence with barely a week left in early voting and Election Day just 10 days away.

APS abrogated its public trust with payouts to get not one but two superintendents to go away, thumbing its nose at the public by agreeing to keep secret the reasons for a $350k buyout of Winston Brooks; six-figure settlements over passing a bad teacher from school to school and violating First Amendment rights; and buying a muscle car and creating a bogus job for its formerly suspended ex-chief financial officer so he can continue to rake in $170K a year for a job he doesn’t want.

It compounded its errors in judgment by disenfranchising the entire northwest quadrant of the city in early voting and either stacking the deck, at best, or suppressing votes at worst. The fact that the original five voting sites are in (sometimes obscure) school buildings, where casting a ballot is all in a day’s work for employees, and none were north of Central/west of Interstate 25, raised enough eyebrows to get APS and Central New Mexico Community College to add sites near Montaño and Taylor Ranch Road and at Northern and N.M. 528 in Rio Rancho.

While APS has focused on needs “for the children,” the bond issue has things for adults as well, like $5 million for an employee health clinic (when the district already provides two health insurance plans). And it has yet to explain to voters that at least four projects they thought they paid for with the district’s 2010 bond issue are back on the 2016 project list – apparently the economic downturn forced a reprioritization that bumped them to the next cycle.

While voting down the bond/mill levy issue might seem like a way to send a message to the adults in charge at APS that the buck has to stop somewhere, that would be shortsighted. Every business and home owner understands that ignoring infrastructure needs doesn’t make those needs go away – and in this case will punish students.

For this election APS voters should focus on those infrastructure needs as well as the inevitable capital expense that goes into keeping up with technology. Our kids need that to prepare for a global economy.

Next year, as in all odd-numbered years, some school board seats will be up for election the first Tuesday in February. That’s the appropriate time for voters to weigh in on the decisions of the adults who have administered too many self-inflicted wounds to the district.

We don’t invest enough in ourselves as a community and a state. Real stuff, whether it’s roads or schools, costs money, and we need to pay for it. While it might be difficult, the Journal recommends that voters put aside their legitimate concerns about the district and its conduct in this election and vote “yes” on the APS bond/mill levy issue.

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.