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Editorial: APS putting adults’ wants over 80K students’ needs

Last week, Albuquerque Public Schools first cut its summer K-3 Plus program that gives the district’s youngest struggling students an extra month of math and reading instruction in the summer. Then Friday it kept the 7/5 high school schedule that gives high school teachers a second planning period every day over a 7/6 schedule that puts students with their core-subject teachers more often.

Did anyone else connect the dots that the $3 million or so the district would have saved changing the high school schedule would have just about paid to keep the K-3 Plus program whole? Such moves fit in with a mentality that seems to prioritize adult wants over student needs.

The schedule was changed because teachers said teaching six classes was exhausting. And the explanation for cutting K-3 plus was that the state Public Education department had cut funding for the program. A challenge to be sure. But there was no sign APS asked PED if there was any alternative funding, or any thought of cutting some adult benefits like cellular phones, etc., to keep the program intact.

With that context it’s no surprise to learn six of the seven APS Board of Education members were elected with financial support of the Albuquerque Teachers Association. ATF does an excellent job of protecting teachers and putting their needs first, exactly what a union should do. And ATF works hard to support candidates who support their causes.

What is disturbing is how quickly and easily the academic needs of the district’s 80,000-plus students are shoved aside. Remember, barely 28 percent of APS students can read at grade level, and just 20 percent can do math at grade level. Almost four out of every 10 do not graduate on time.

And yet APS failed to put student proficiency first by at least reaching out for ways to keep intact an early childhood reading program that has shown great gains around the state and a class schedule that has produced much better results up the hill in Rio Rancho. Instead, APS pared the reading program back and took a swipe at Santa Fe on its website, then kowtowed to a union that said a high school schedule that puts students first crushes employee morale.

What’s wrong with this picture?

In spring 2016, six board members voted in the 7-5 high school plan after much lobbying from teachers and the union. The only member to vote against it was Peggy Muller-Aragón, who has received no union money. She did take in $15K from Gov. Susana Martinez’s PAC. That’s the same governor who wants third graders to be able to read before they are just passed on to the next grade.

Muller-Aragón also points out the schedule favors high school teachers over others. Under the current system, according to APS, elementary teachers get 265 minutes of prep and planning a week, middle school teachers get 270 minutes, and high school teachers get 479 minutes. Earlier this month, the board stood up to the union and voted to allow the administration to go back to the 7/6 schedule if needed for budgetary reasons. Administrators should have.

APS is looking at a potential $26.1 million shortfall for fiscal 2018 as the state struggles with declining oil and gas revenues. Last month APS decided to kill intermural basketball, volleyball and track and field to save around $600K, then reversed course when a groundswell of public outcry pointed out cuts should first target adults and bureaucracy.

Rather than look at tapping its reserves or at the number of administrators and the perks and salaries they receive, it appears the first items on the APS chopping block are those that most affect the kids.

That’s what happened when APS cut its K-3 Plus program back by 10 sites. When it scrapped the data-driven 7/6 high school schedule. When it attempted to cut middle school sports. So is it any wonder its students keep coming in last?

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.