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APS Targets Double Dippers

FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly described the amount of money earned by Albuquerque school district employees who were rehired after retiring. The story said they "earn a pension that is close to their full salary." Actually, they earn a pension that is, on average, 67 percent of the salary they earned during their highest five consecutive years of pay.

By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
          Targeting "double dipping" employees who have returned to work after retirement is one of the budget-balancing ideas that Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks presented to the school board Monday.
        He also suggested heavy cuts to nonschool budgets, deferring to public outcry that administration should be cut before classrooms.
        The district faces a $43 million budget shortfall, and Brooks' current proposal calls for 664 total layoffs. Drafts of the proposal have been ever-changing since Brooks announced the shortfall last month.
        The double-dipping layoffs, which were proposed for the first time Monday, would cut 153 jobs and save the district about $5 million. Brooks said it makes sense because these employees have a pension to fall back on.
        In most cases, double dippers are earning a pension that is, on average, 67 percent of the salary they earned during their highest five consecutive years of pay, in addition to wages for their current work.
        The district can only lay off double dippers who have less than three years of post-retirement experience. After that, their contracts prevent the district from firing them without cause. The list of employees who meet that criteria includes principals, teachers, counselors and custodians.
        Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she understands why the district is targeting rehires, but that there are problems with the plan.
        She said double dippers "have the same rights as all beginning employees," and that the district should conduct layoffs by seniority, regardless of whether employees are also drawing a pension.
        She said many rehires have specific financial reasons that they returned to work, or are filling hard-to-staff positions.
        "Everything is more complicated than it looks on the list," she said, referencing Brooks' list of recommended cuts.
        She added, though, that administrators are working hard in the face of what she called "untenable" cuts by the Legislature.
        "This administration is doing exactly what they should do, and that is continuing to problem-solve," she said. "They are listening, and I appreciate that."
        Brooks made a point Monday that his administration is listening, holding up binders full of public comment that have been sifted through and taken into account. He said many of the comments urged him to make cuts to the administration instead of classrooms, and that he has tried to do so as much as he can.
        "We've heard you loud and clear," he said to an audience that filled the boardroom, adding that nonschool budgets have already taken heavy cuts in the past two years and that they make up less than 1 percent of the $655 million APS budget.
        "Everybody wants to hit administration, but that's a huge hit for 1 percent of our budget to take," said board member Paula Maes.
        Nonetheless, Brooks said he will still aim the deepest cuts at nonschool budgets. Under his proposal, those budgets would be cut by 6.5 percent, saving $15.6 million and likely eliminating about 375 full-time positions. Brooks told the board that some of those cuts would take the form of layoffs, while others might come from leaving positions vacant.
        Nonschool employees, including Brooks and other senior staff, would also face two days of furloughs, or days off without pay, under the current proposal, for a savings of $800,000.
        The remaining layoffs in Brooks' proposal would come from a 30 percent decrease in school discretionary funds, which are largely used to hire extra staff. Brooks estimates a loss of about 136 full-time positions from this cut, and a savings of $6.6 million.
        In addition, schools would also face a 1.5 percent cut to their operating budgets, which principals can make as they see fit. This will save $5.1 million.
        Other, smaller, cuts in Brooks' recommendation include reducing nonpayroll spending like travel and professional development, drawing down the medical insurance reserves and cutting back on stipends and overtime.
        He withdrew an initial proposal that had called for a hiring freeze, saying it would have been inequitable because one school might have five layoffs and another might have none.
        The board was largely supportive of Brooks, although member Robert Lucero expressed concern about the financial practices that led the district to its current crisis.
        "To say I'm disappointed in our finance department would be an understatement," he said, and called for the formation of an oversight committee on the district's finances.
        Of the current cuts the district must make, $24 million came from a reduction in state funding. The rest is due to miscalculations on the district's part, and a need to shore up depleted cash reserves.
        Board member David Robbins defended the finance department, saying it is discovering errors made in past years, not making new errors.
        Member Lorenzo Garcia called for another special legislative session to restore the funding that was cut.
        The board will meet again Wednesday to vote on Brooks' recommendation, although Lucero said he will not be ready to vote by then.
        "I'm not ready to support anything on Wednesday," he said, adding that he wants more time to sit down with teachers and others, and also to take a closer look at the district's finances.

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