Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Editorial: APS’ latest budget a $2 billion question

Exactly why a school district with 5,500 fewer students than last year needs a $68 million budget increase has understandably perplexed several Albuquerque Public Schools board members.

The state’s largest school district has been hemorrhaging students for years, with enrollment dropping by 17% over the last decade as parents vote with their feet. Lower birth rates, an increase in the popularity of charter schools and the pandemic making home schooling a real option have all likely played a role.

And yet the district’s operational spending has gone up $126 million from 2012 to 2021, a 21% increase.

Faced with a deadline to pass a proposed $1.9 billion budget, the board voted last week to table the proposal and seek more information on changes to individual school budgets, the number of full-time employees and programs, and where cuts were being made.

APS leaders tried to provide explanations Wednesday, but they were unable to sway three school board members, resulting in the narrow 4-3 approval of the nearly $2 billion proposed budget. Some board members want more input and transparency, and they are absolutely right to demand both. The primary job of board members is to craft an annual budget, not just rubber-stamp one from administrators. APS parents, students, employees and taxpayers deserve accountability and specifics.

For example, will the nearly $2 billion help APS meet requirements of the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education equity court ruling? Will it help students make up academically for the years lost to the pandemic and catch up those who were already behind? If not, the budget shouldn’t have been presented, much less approved.

A recent Legislative Finance Committee report says APS has 400 more teachers and staff members than it should and orders APS to report to the LFC within a year on how it plans “to adjust its facilities footprint to declining enrollment.” The new budget eliminates just 70 support, 16 instructional and 27 administrative positions.

Are consolidations of the district’s 143 schools inevitable? The budget doesn’t address that. And where did those 5,500 students from last year go and what is APS doing to try bring them back or right-size? Ditto.

APS, with 15,000 employees and 71,460 students, has a sophisticated website, an extensive email list, large social media presence and foundation. It could use its large platform to better inform the public about how it is addressing enrollment declines and spending.

If school board members who are presented binders of budget paperwork have questions, imagine how little the average taxpayer knows about where and how APS spends its money. Essential questions remain unanswered; it’s up to the administration to change that.

Unacceptable PED delay in assessment data

An announcement this week that standardized student testing data won’t be available until well into the next school year is a setback for every New Mexico school district seeking to gauge learning loss during the pandemic.

The state Public Education Department says data from the SAT, the standardized test for juniors, will be available in August. But data for the final Measures of Student Success & Achievement assessments, the tests for grades three through eight, won’t be available until November.

This despite testing for both wrapped up in May. Testing was waived in 2020 and voluntary in 2021.

PED says the delay is because MSSA tests are new, and that reports should be available about 10 days after testing windows close next spring. That leaves teachers and students in the lurch August-November. The six-month data delay makes it next to impossible for districts to assess the learning loss and set appropriate lesson plans.

Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus says the issue could be addressed in negotiations with Cognia Inc., which processes assessment results. If should be, sooner rather than later. If Cognia can’t step up for students, find a new vendor.

This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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