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APS Board urged to use reserve to cover funding cut

Protesters outside APS headquarters before Wednesday evening’s school board meeting. (Kim Burgess/Journal)

Protesters outside APS headquarters before Wednesday evening’s school board meeting. (Kim Burgess/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — No furloughs, no layoffs, no pay cuts, no uncompensated work, no increased class sizes.

That was the message a teachers union caucus brought to the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education on Wednesday night.

About 40 members of AlbuCORE, a caucus within the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, protested outside district headquarters before the board meeting, appealing to APS to cover a $12.5 million budget cut exclusively from the $53 million cash reserve, rather than turning to furloughs or layoffs.

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“We are in the midst of a crisis caused by the Legislature and the governor starving public education of funding,” Clayton Beverly, a Spanish and science teacher at Jefferson Middle School, said in an interview. “They need to find other funding sources.”

District administrators have stressed that the budget is so dire they must consider every option.

A message from the APS Budget Steering Committee, sent to employees a few weeks ago, says there is “little meat on the financial bones of Albuquerque Public Schools, which means anticipated cuts in state funding are going to hurt in the coming months and years.”

To save $10 million, the district could lay off 750 people or shut down completely for four days, according to the email.

“Before any of that happens, APS is dipping into cash reserves as much as it can and cutting spending on such things as school supplies,” the email states. “We wish we had more specifics. The only thing we can say for sure is that we’re working diligently to do what’s best for our students and our employees.”

Mary Kelly, an Albuquerque High School social studies teacher, said she found the Budget Steering Committee message threatening and upsetting.

“That was really poorly worded and, I think, very poorly handled by the district,” she added. “It scares people. … As a union rep at school, I had a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘Am I going to lose my job?'”

Albuquerque High junior Hannnah Fry is worried the cuts will impact her education.

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While it may be fun to think about getting out of school four days early, Fry said it is important for students to have that time in the classroom.

During the demonstration, she held up a sign that read: “To define success, we need dictionaries” – a reference to the reduction in supplies.

A handful of protesters also addressed the board at the public comment portion of the meeting, handing out letters signed by dozens of teachers from across the district.

Board members said they sympathize with the activists’ stance.

“We have to make our voices heard,” said Board Vice President Lorenzo Garcia, who called for more outcry at the Legislature. “Enough is enough. … We have to stand up for what’s right.”

Steven Michael Quezada, whose board tenure ends this month, said the state government is “balancing the budget on the back of public education.”

“I call on the governor to sufficiently fund education,” he said.

APS is facing an unprecedented money crunch for the current fiscal year, losing $12.5 million in late January when Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill that pulled a total of $46 million from school district cash reserves to help cover a massive state budget deficit.

The cut comes on top of the $12.5 million reduction instituted during October’s special legislative session – $9.5 million from APS operational funds, and $3 million for areas like transportation and instructional materials.

The district’s total budget is over $1 billion, with $688 million for general operations.

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