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APS to host radio program to discuss budget crisis

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In an attempt to reach more people in less time, Albuquerque Public Schools is hosting its first-ever radio call-in program to answer questions about how the state’s budget crisis is affecting the classroom.

The program will air Wednesday on KANW-FM (89.1). Screeners will field phone calls and write down the questions, which will then be answered on air by the APS trio of Superintendent Raquel Reedy, Board of Education President David Peercy and APS Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman.

“We’ve had dozens of public meetings, and at many of those we’ve had more staff than members of the public,” APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said Monday. “People are busy. They work, have activities, children. There’s only a limited amount of leisure and free time in a person’s life.”

The call-in program format will allow people “who have never had the luxury of time to attend a meeting” to ask questions about the district’s budget and related concerns, she said.

An APS website posting about the call-in show explained that the state’s current economic woes will translate into more cuts for APS.

“We’ve been working on budget adjustments for months and have a strategy we’re confident will have the least impact in our classrooms for the rest of this school year. Now we’re asking for your help in designing the long-range budget for our district,” the posting said.

For the 2017 fiscal year, APS lost $25 million in state funding – $12.5 million that was cut during a special legislative session held before the school year began and another $12.5 million cut during the current legislative session, Armenta said. “We don’t know what we are facing in cuts for fiscal year 2018 but, with oil and gas revenues still down, we do know there will be additional cuts.”

New Mexico is a key oil- and gas-producing state. Industry revenues provide about a third of total funds captured by state government, which in turn provides most of the state’s public education operating budget.

Oil prices have plummeted since 2014 because of global oversupply and sluggish demand, which has decreased oil profits and royalties for New Mexico and other oil-producing states. Natural gas prices have also been depressed for years.

“Most people don’t understand that these cuts are progressive,” meaning that the lost money is never coming back and the funds are not being replenished, Armenta said. With each round of cuts, “you just get further behind.”

That will hopefully be clarified during the call-in show, as will the confusion about how APS spends its money, she said.

“People see new schools and other buildings being constructed, and they want to know why we continue to spend money if we don’t have it. We hear that all the time.”

School construction projects are capital improvements, which are largely funded by taxpayer bonds. APS’ operational budget, funded by legislative allocation, is what’s on the chopping block. “The law does not allow us to comingle those funds,” Armenta said.

APS’ total budget is about $1.3 billion, of which $687 million is its operating expenses. About 90 percent of the operating budget is in salaries and benefits.

“At some point, if you cut everything you can from all the other areas of public education, eventually you have to look at cutting beloved programs and instructional time,” Armenta said. “We’ve been forthright in telling our employees that everything is on the table.”

She noted that the Cobre Consolidated School District in southern New Mexico recently announced that it will cut costs by going on a four-day school week starting in August.

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