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          Front Page




Look What APS Found: $108M

By Andrea Schoellkopf
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Albuquerque Public Schools suddenly has a lot more money to build schools— more than a $100 million extra.
    Two more West Side elementaries, reconstruction of Del Norte High and two other elementaries and a list of other projects are suddenly real possibilities in the near future.
    Most of the money was freed up from the last APS bond issue. The state in 2006 agreed to chip in $67 million to finish two West Side high schools now under construction, but voters later that year approved raising the money through bonds backed by property taxes.
    Officials said that money can now be used for other projects.
    The remainder of the $108 million comes from interest, leftover balances from previous projects, an emergency fund and better-than-expected tax collections.
    A plan on how to spend the money has been approved by a school board committee and is scheduled for a final vote by the full board at its 5 p.m. meeting today.
    The district pays for school construction and repairs primarily in three ways: bonds backed by property taxes, property tax collections that go directly toward projects and state matching funds.
    But, like other government agencies, the district doesn't spend money as quickly as it takes it in. In the meantime, it collects interest.
    Kizito Wijenje, who heads up APS' construction program, said the district has always gotten some extra revenue that way.
    But as the district's capital program has grown, so has the interest on unspent funds. In addition, tax collections over the past couple of years were better than anticipated.
    In the past, such extra funds were used as a reserve for emergency capital needs, Deputy Superintendent Tom Savage said. But APS has occasionally been able to pay for bigger projects that way, such as the 1992 reconstruction of Pajarito Elementary.
    "We probably haven't been adequately funded in the history of our capital program, really, until now," Savage said in an interview. "It puts us in a position to do better planning with those funds than in the past."
    Based on projected revenues from interest and other sources, APS anticipates another $122 million over the next six years that it can apply to its capital needs, figures show.
    The district now spends about $350 million annually on construction, maintenance and repairs. It estimates it would need about $3 billion to meet all of its construction and maintenance needs.
    Under the plan to be considered tonight, APS will use the $108 million to pay for 17 projects, including two new $17 million prototype-design West Side elementaries; $10 million for the West Side education corridor to include a soccer complex; $6.7 million apiece to complete new Susie Rayos Marmon and Georgia O'Keeffe elementary buildings; and $17.3 million toward reconstruction of Del Norte High School.
    Parents from O'Keeffe and Marmon elementary schools said they were thankful there was money to complete brick-and-mortar buildings. Classes have been in prefabricated, temporary metal buildings since the late 1980s.
    "We need to get started on this, like last year," said Marmon parent Sandy Martinez, who said heavy winds against the metal building last week caused the cafeteria roof to leak. "We are so desperate."
    The list also includes $2 million in seed and design money for a new West Side athletic stadium. APS plans to raise money for the stadium through corporate naming rights and legislative appropriations, Wijenje said.
    APS has 75 acres on Paseo del Volcan next to a site for a potential high school.
    "We're the only district (in New Mexico) having 13 high schools using two stadiums," Wijenje said, "Midday to 9:30 at night, six days a week. It's not just a sports issue, it's an educational issue."
    Sources of windfall
   
  • $18.1 million left over from pre-2005 capital projects, which includes interest and extra collections
       
  • $7.18 million in better-than-expected property tax collections
       
  • $10.58 million in interest on bonds sold since 2005, which accrues after sale until the money is spent on projects
       
  • $67.7 million the state had allocated for two West Side high schools, which APS voters later approved in a 2006 bond election
       
  • $4.5 million in funds budgeted for emergencies and contingencies