Tuesday, February 15, 2011
APS Defends Spending on Communications
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
Gov. Susana Martinez's State of the State speech took aim at several groups, but it took a particular swipe at the Albuquerque Public Schools communications department.
"New Mexicans are not fooled when bureaucrats, whose salaries are many times that of the average teacher, claim the only place to cut is from the classroom. They're not fooled when a school district spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR staff and then claims it has nowhere to cut but the classroom. ... The truth is, the waste is there, and it must be eliminated," Martinez said in her speech last month.
So just how much does APS spend on communications, and what is that money spent on?
The annual cost of salaries in the communications and web department at APS is $440,565 — which includes eight people. In addition to four employees who interact with the media, the department includes a web editor, an online graphic designer, a technical writer and a secretary.
APS is bracing for cuts, using preliminary budget numbers to forecast a 5.5 percent cut to "direct instruction" (teachers, educational assistants and school-based maintenance), and a 12.8 percent cut to everyone else, including communications.
Monica Armenta, who heads the department and earns its highest salary at $106,776, said her department's responsibilities are not well understood.
"I think there's a misconception about the work that comes in and out of the office," she said. "The office is quite frankly 60 percent crisis management, and we are responsible for communicating internally with 14,000 staff members, as well as communicating externally."
Armenta cited a school gas leak as an example of "crisis management." She said a communications staffer will be among the first at such a scene to help coordinate the situation, keep it from escalating and spread the word to students and parents.
Armenta also said her department breaks down complicated issues like the budget into more simple presentations to encourage public participation, and it manages the district's phone and e-mail notification system, ParentLink.
She also cited a survey done in 2006 by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts nationwide, showing that the size of APS's staff is not out of line with those of other districts.
According to that survey, 66 percent of districts had communications staffs of between five and 20 people, and 69 percent had communications budgets of more than $750,000.