Gov. Susana Martinez’s office on Friday slammed Albuquerque Public Schools for cutting middle school athletics, arguing that the district has millions in the bank and is spending “more money on lobbyists and public relations staff” than the program’s entire cost.
Spokesman Mike Lonergan said Martinez is “outraged” APS is leaving thousands of kids without after-school sports.
“This is a bad decision, as they are the only school district that has announced this reckless action,” he said in an emailed statement. “Parents deserve to know that APS is choosing to spend more money on lobbyists and public relations staff than they would spend on all middle school athletics. Even worse, APS has tens of millions of dollars in savings, which highlights just how distorted their priorities are. The governor is calling on APS leadership to cut the political games and restore middle school athletics.”
The New Mexico Public Education Department also got into the fray, sending the news media a list of APS criticisms that range from high administrator salaries to poor academic outcomes and a technical discussion of district accounting methods.
The PED document says the district spends about $1.6 million on lobbyists and publicists each year. APS said it could not confirm that number.
But APS disputed nearly all other items cited by the department and said it’s continually called on to “do more with less.”
“Please know we’d never make a decision like cutting middle school sports, or any other beloved program, if there was another option,” said APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta in an emailed statement. “None of the choices are good.”
Armenta stressed that many state-funded agencies are also making tough decisions: The University of New Mexico dropped its ski team, and Santa Fe Public Schools may close two schools.
With a special legislative budget session still to come, APS can only “plan conservatively and wait,” Armenta said.
“If revenues come in higher than budgeted, we have the flexibility to review our decisions and make adjustments,” she added.
Armenta countered PED’s claims that the district had over $94 million in the bank at the end of the last fiscal year. APS puts the tally at $58 million, and argues that it is dangerous to drop below $40 million in cash reserves because that money covers many programs until government reimbursements come through.
Last week, APS Chief Financial Officer Tami Coleman told the Board of Education that she predicts a 2 percent budget reduction will pass during the session – $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.
The board approved a 2 percent budget reduction scenario to guide administrators until final numbers are set.
While many possibilities are still being debated, on Thursday the administration’s budget steering committee made a decision on middle school athletics.
Axing the program – which includes volleyball, basketball and track – will save $580,000 a year. Roughly 3,400 kids are currently taking part across the district’s middle schools.
Regular physical education classes are not impacted.
As the school year draws to a close, the APS budget steering committee is meeting every day to try to move forward with as much of the budget as possible.
“We are at the point we’d hoped never to reach,” Armenta said. “We cannot wait any longer to plan next school year, so we are preparing budgets based on a two-percent cut. Again, departments and the administration have been hit first.”