Saturday, June 26, 2010
APS Moving Money To Correct $1M Error
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
The Albuquerque Public Schools finance department is digging into its books for the past three years, moving money around to account for more than $1 million that was illegally spent from the wrong capital fund.
The money, which was spent on computer-based testing called Assess to Learn — abbreviated A2L — came from a funding stream that cannot be used for computers and software.
Two pieces of legislation are used to authorize property taxes for capital funding. One, known as Senate Bill 9, allows for the purchase of computers and software. The other, House Bill 33, does not.
APS, in what interim Chief Financial Officer Ruben Hendrickson said was a mistake, used HB 33 funds to pay for the past three years of A2L testing. The total cost, including the current fiscal year, was about $1.15 million.
Hendrickson said the district had confused the parameters of SB 9 and HB 33.
The two acts are similar, and funds from either can be used to build, remodel, equip or furnish school buildings. They can also both be used to buy or improve school grounds. But only SB 9 allows for computers and software.
"We thought we were on solid ground," Hendrickson said.
The error was discovered after the Journal inquired about the legality of the purchases.
Hendrickson said the error will be fixed by shuffling money between the two capital funds to meet the legal requirements.
Don Moya, chief financial officer for the state Public Education Department, said he is aware of the problem and that the district's plan to resolve it is sound. Moya is leaving his state post to become chief financial officer for APS starting in July.
The A2L tests are different from the standards-based assessment that New Mexico uses to measure proficiency for the No Child Left Behind act. The A2L tests measure students' math and reading ability three times a year. Teachers use the results to see how students are doing so they can adjust their lessons accordingly.
Cutting nonmandated testing was among the top suggestions from the Albuquerque Teachers Federation when APS set out to cut $43 million from its budget this spring. But as the A2L testing is paid from capital money, cutting it would not have helped the district balance its operational budget.
Hendrickson said it makes sense to pay for testing with legally available capital funds, taking pressure off the operational fund and avoiding such measures as laying off teachers.