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‘Rank and file’ educators protest sweeping cuts to APS programs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Grant Middle School principal Edgar Briggs has seen failing students turn their lives around thanks to an after-school sports program that may be dropped as a cost-cutting measure.

“There are life-defining aspects to the mentorship they get,” he said. “They build self-discipline, and kids need that foundation.”

On Wednesday, Briggs appealed to the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education to save middle school athletics, which currently serves 3,400 kids.

He was one of about 20 teachers, parents, students and administrators who addressed various aspects of the district’s projected $25 million budget reduction during the meeting’s public comment period.

Madison Middle School girls basketball coach Emily Peter walks past APS board members after speaking out against proposed budget cuts related to middle school sports. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Madison Middle School girls basketball coach Emily Peter walks past APS board members after speaking out against proposed budget cuts related to middle school sports. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Earlier this month, the board approved a tentative budget proposal that lists a number of unpopular options, including the middle school athletics cut, reduced employee work days, bigger classes and a heavier high school schedule.

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The Albuquerque Teachers Federation has taken a strong stand against the schedule change, and its members were out in force Wednesday.

“I arrive today to ask you guys to consider more deeply the cuts that we’re making,” said Lansing Freeman, a La Cueva High teacher. “We need to be more creative with our solutions.”

A group from AlbuCORE, a caucus of “rank and file educators” within ATF, argued that the district should take the entire projected $25 million cut from its cash reserves.

Mary Kelly, an Albuquerque High teacher and AlbuCORE member, said the money is there, but APS doesn’t want to touch it.

“We really could avoid all these cuts,” Kelly told the Journal.

APS has argued that a low cash balance would hurt the district bond rating and make it difficult to cover expenses.

The district pulled from the reserves to cover part of its fiscal year 2017 reduction, dropping the total to around $40 million. Administrators have said it would be reckless to cut it any further.

APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy, right, speaks with Board of Education member Elizabeth Armijo before Wednesday's meeting that generated public comment on the district's proposed budget reduction. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy, right, speaks with Board of Education member Elizabeth Armijo before Wednesday’s meeting that generated public comment on the district’s proposed budget reduction. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Superintendent Raquel Reedy stressed that the district is working hard to listen to every concern and keep the budget process transparent.

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“We have laid all of our cards on the table and many people don’t like the hand they are being dealt,” she said. “Process, that’s what all of this is. We will continue to be honest and transparent, even when what we have to say isn’t popular. But we’ll also continue to listen, work together, gather input, answer questions and address concerns.”

The district is awaiting the Legislature’s special session, which will determine the fiscal year 2018 budget. APS administrators are predicting a 2 percent K-12 education cut, about $12 million for the district. In addition, a combination of higher expenses coupled with lower enrollment will add up to another $13 million for a total loss of $25 million.

With the school year winding down, the APS budget steering committee is meeting every day to move as quickly as possible.

On Wednesday, board members said the entire budget process has been painful.

“Our commitment to education has been overridden by the governor and the Legislature, but mostly the governor,” said board member Lorenzo Garcia.

Board member Barbara Petersen said it is frustrating to see carefully crafted policies like the high school schedule on the chopping block.

She called for concerned parents and teachers to contact lawmakers and push the case for education funding.

The board will vote on the final budget on May 22.


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