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APS OKs plan to cut budget


FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed to veto tax increases contained in the Legislature’s $6.1 billion budget bill; she has not said whether she will veto the entire bill.

After an emotional four-hour meeting Tuesday, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a budget reduction scenario that includes larger class sizes, reduced staff work days, a heavier high school schedule and possible layoffs.

The proposal is far from final – APS doesn’t even know what its budget will look like for the next fiscal year. Gov. Susana Martinez has vowed to veto tax increases included in the Legislature’s $6.1 billion budget bill and call for a special session to negotiate a final deal.

Despite the uncertainty, APS chief financial officer Tami Coleman told the board she believes a 2 percent cut is most likely, which amounts to $12.4 million for the district. In addition, APS is projecting higher expenses coupled with lower enrollment, adding up to another $13.7 million for a total loss of $26.1 million.

Coleman stressed that finance department staff don’t have time to wait for the state’s final numbers and must begin planning for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The approved budget scenario will give APS a general direction for the coming weeks.

“This is our recommendation after many, many hours of work,” Coleman said. “We had many marathon meetings.”

Coleman’s plan includes a number of options she presented to the board two weeks ago during a finance committee meeting, with some slight tweaks. The board requested Tuesday’s special budget meeting to give them more time to consider the specific proposed reductions.

They include:

⋄  Cut 3 school employee work days: $4.2 million savings

Unlike districtwide furloughs, this measure would not reduce instructional time. Instead, staff would lose professional development days and the financial hit would be spread out over a number of paychecks.

_Agate”>⋄  Cut 4 non-school employee work days: $2 million savings

Under this plan, all non-school employees will take the reduction. APS had considered holding employees harmless if they make less than $25,000 a year, but decided against it. Educational assistants and secretaries are often in this income level.

_Agate”>⋄  7/6 High School Schedule: $3 million savings

Last year, the Albuquerque Teachers Federation successfully campaigned to go back to the “7/5 schedule,” which gives teachers five classes a day, and periods for preparation and departmental planning in groups called “Professional Learning Communities.” The “7/6 schedule” – modeled after Rio Rancho’s – reduced teachers’ PLC time.

It will almost certainly come back next year. Coleman said APS does not have to renegotiate with the union to make the change.

⋄  7 percent class size waivers: $1.8 million savings

Currently, APS has a waiver that allows it to exceed the New Mexico Public Education Department’s class size limits by 5 percent. Bumping that up to 7 percent would mean larger classes and fewer educators.

⋄  10 percent City Center departmental budget reduction: $4.2 million savings

City Center was already reorganized when APS had to cut $25 million in fiscal year 2017, but administrators would like to take another look to find any additional savings.

The district will also pull $5 million from cash reserves, which would drop the total to around $40 million. That is dangerously low, Coleman said, because administrators depend on the reserve to cover expenses like summer payroll.

Asked if the budget scenario includes layoffs, Coleman told the Journal that’s a possibility “district wide,” though it was too early to say with certainty.

“It is heartbreaking,” she said of the dire financial outlook. “This has been very stressful for everyone.”

A number of APS staff and board members looked visibly upset during the budget discussion.

Elizabeth Armijo, a recently elected board member, said the proposed cuts made her “break out in hives.”

The APS board is tentatively scheduled to vote on a final budget on May 22.