Wednesday, May 27, 2009
APS Has $16 Million It Hadn't Counted on
By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
Officials at Albuquerque Public Schools say they have found $16 million in a reserve fund that hadn't been reported to the state previously.
"I am quite frankly embarrassed on behalf of the district," Superintendent Winston Brooks said in a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
Although the amount is similar to the $17 million deficit APS needs to make up for its 2009-2010 budget, Brooks said at least $10 million of the amount has been used to replenish the reserve fund, which had been tapped last year to cover a $20 million revenue loss.
He'd like the rest to remain in reserves for a "rainy day" or likely two years from now, when the federal stimulus funding expires. He said he is less enthusiastic about using the money for a one-time employee bonus to cover the 1.5 percent salary hit staff must pay towards their pensions for the next two years.
"It really needs to go to things that will not be recurring (expenses)," Brooks said.
The amount was recently discovered by the district's accounting director, Tami Coleman, as she attempted to reconcile district accounts. It appears to have grown from a mistaken data entry, perhaps made as far back as 2002.
Brooks called it a case of "bad math" that happened to benefit the district with found money, rather than a deficit.
State Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said in a letter that it appears that turnover among APS staff led to the error.
Chief Financial Officer Dupuy Bateman said the money should have been available for operational funds, such as classroom expenses, but had been mistakenly marked as "restricted."
But some of the school board members want to see the money used for other things.
"We need to put it in our employees," said West Side board member Robert Lucero, who wants to use the money for a one-time bonus to cover the increased costs employees face for their pension and health insurance.
Board president Marty Esquivel said he wants the money used in the classroom.
"We hear all too often about how much teachers have to spend on supplies and resources, and I think that's what we need to do," Esquivel said.