ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools administrators fielded dozens of questions from the public Wednesday night during a unique radio call-in show on budget issues.
KANW-FM (89.1) – a station owned by the district – hosted the program from 6 to 7 p.m. Calls came in steadily across the hour and roughly 1,100 people watched a livestream on the APS Facebook page.
During the hour, Superintendent Raquel Reedy, Board of Education President David Peercy and APS Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman addressed a wide variety of suggestions to cover a projected $12 million budget cut for fiscal year 2018: “Could APS consolidate schools?” “Is a four-day week an option?” “Would APS lease building roofs for solar power?”
The trio repeatedly stressed that the district has already been slashed to the bone, losing a total of $25 million for the current fiscal year.
In response, administrators reviewed every Central Office department for extra spending and pulled $6.65 million from cash reserves.
The district managed to cover the fiscal year 2017 reduction without resorting to furloughs and layoffs, but probably won’t be so lucky next year.
Coleman during the show said she is hearing that the Legislature will likely cut 2 percent of school districts’ operational money for fiscal year 2018, which translates to about $12 million at APS.
Plus, APS is seeing its costs go up for areas like bus transportation, utilities and medical insurance. Enrollment has also been declining steadily for several years, which reduces per-pupil funding from the state.
The cost increases combined with the enrollment decline add up to an $18 million loss for APS, Coleman said, meaning the district is looking at a total reduction of $30 million for FY18 when the state cut is factored in.
“There is no way to cut $30 million out of this budget without impacting people’s salaries,” Coleman said. “Ninety percent of our budget is payroll. Where else could we get it from?”
A districtwide furlough – the complete shutdown of APS for an unpaid day off – would save about $2.5 million.
Reedy told the Journal that the budget problems are “very, very difficult.”
“As we look at the numbers, we have to be realistic,” she said.
APS spokeswoman Johanna King couldn’t say how many people listened to the call-in show through the radio, but the Facebook response alone went far beyond the turnout at any conventional budget meeting.
“We would get eight or 10 people,” King said of previous budget forums. “We are really pleased with the reach (for the radio program) and will consider this again in the future.”