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APS class schedule remains in limbo

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Facing an uncertain budget, Albuquerque Public Schools has not been able to complete next year’s high school schedule – and time is getting tight.

District spokeswoman Johanna King told the Journal that principals are coming up with one plan that includes five classes per day and another that includes six.

Last week, the APS Board of Education approved a budget scenario that restores the unpopular six-class schedule if the district is hit with a 2 percent reduction for the upcoming fiscal year. According to APS projections, the schedule, known as 7/6, would save about $3 million because the district can reduce its teacher workforce through attrition.

King clarified that APS does not have to stick to the approved scenario and can still decide to maintain its current 7/5 schedule, which includes one period for preparation and one for departmental planning in groups called “Professional Learning Communities.”

Under the 7/6 plan, the PLC period would be cut.

“We are hoping it won’t be a 2 percent (reduction), so we don’t have to do this,” King said. “But we are planning for that, and we asked the high schools to look at that.”

Like other districts across the state, APS is awaiting a special legislative session that will determine the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Administrators have said they think 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.

All the uncertainty is taking a toll.

High school teachers and principals are “incredibly anxious” because they don’t know what to expect, according to Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein.

“We’re so damn frustrated,” Bernstein said. “We have to plan for next year. We don’t have a choice. Yet we don’t have any reality to plan with.”

APS administrators have said they would not necessarily have to negotiate with the teachers union to change the schedule, but Bernstein worries about the message that would send.

“They may feel like they can impose this, but they can’t impose it without breaking trust with their employees,” Bernstein said.

Time is running short, especially if APS opts to revamp the schedule. Bernstein thinks, optimally, the process should have started a month or two ago.

If the 7/6 schedule does return, teachers will be very disappointed, according to Tanya Kuhnee, a West Mesa High School English teacher and ATF high school vice president.

The union fought hard to bring back the PLC period when the district cut it for the for 2015-16 school year, helping organize a committee of teachers, students, parents and principals to consider alternatives. After months of work, they successfully argued for the 7/5 format.

As part of the union campaign, dozens of teachers spoke out at a board meeting, describing exhaustion and burnout as they struggled to cover six classes.

“That will happen again if 7/6 comes back,” Kuhnee said.

Last week, Kuhnee met with a group of teachers to brainstorm cost savings ideas that would allow the district to maintain the five class load.

The entire process has been stressful, Kuhnee said.

APS has already absorbed a $25 million reduction for fiscal year 2017 across two rounds of cuts.

For fiscal year 2018, APS is considering class size increases and work-day reductions for all employees. On Thursday, the budget steering committee decided to ax middle school sports.

“All of the VPs in the union have teachers coming to their rooms, crying with them after school because they are so worried about all of the different proposals from the district,” Kuhnee said. “At this point, we are talking about people’s livelihoods, and their ability to support their families.”