APS funding, spending increased while enrollment decreased

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder speaks to members of the Capital State Legislative Finance Committee Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Santa Fe, NM Elder pushed back on a recommendation in a report released Wednesday urging the school district to close schools. Elder agrees that some staff need to be cut, as funding cuts from losing enrollment leave the district with a projected budget shortfall. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

Albuquerque Public Schools has been steadily losing students for years and currently has 400 more teachers and staff than it should.

Yet student achievement, especially among “low-income students,” has faltered, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s time for school officials to scale back and seize opportunities to improve student performance, according to a sobering review the district received at a legislative finance committee meeting Wednesday.

“Despite more funding and fewer students, student achievement in the district remains low and worsening,” said Katie Dry, senior evaluator for the LFC program. She noted that APS is the largest school district in the state, responsible for educating nearly a quarter of New Mexico’s students and a similar percentage of the state’s public education budget. ‘State.

“So what happens in the district in terms of student funding, enrollment and performance has important implications for the rest of the state,” she added.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder said the assessment “highlighted some realities” for the district, although some were not new, and that leaders had made progress on some of the issues, such as the elimination of hundreds of vacant posts and the displacement of staff. At a subsequent board meeting, executive budget director Rosalinda Montoya said APS may consider consolidating the schools in 2024.

“We understood that we were going to be examined and they would find things that we had to fix,” Elder told the committee. “We understand our role in the state to improve state outcomes, and we look forward to working with you to make improvements to the state, because there are some things you know, and we know that. must be changed.”

Falling registration

While operating expenses increased between 2012 and 2021 by $126 million, or 21%, enrollment has fallen 17% over the past decade, a statistic cited repeatedly by reviewers in the report. State funding also increased during this period, by $136 million, or 23%.

Elder acknowledged that per-student funding has increased, but said things like inflation and mandatory salary increases have also increased. The district is missing about $22 million for pay raises when factoring in raises for federally funded employees, he said, adding that it would be potentially “fiscally irresponsible” to use funds that will expire in future years for recurring expenses.

Evaluators said in the report that APS has received more state funding to cover pay increases, and that district resources are “the highest it has been for the past decade, even taking inflation into account.

School ownership has also increased by 21% since 2012, the evaluators wrote, while enrollment has “changed across the city.” Still, schools with more low-income students have generally had a higher need for buildings to repair, despite the district prioritizing capital funds for them.

“We’re putting band-aids on the most pressing issues,” Elder said. “Bernalillo County’s ratepayer is already higher than many other counties in the state.”

He said the district would welcome conversations and support from the Legislative Assembly on how to transfer students to another school, which could result in them changing neighborhoods or increasing transportation time and costs.

“Closing schools … is complicated, political and often hurts communities that need support the most,” Elder said.

The drop in enrollment is due to falling birth rates — down 24% between 2010 and 2020 — and rising enrollment in public and local charter schools in Albuquerque, up 6,300 students since 2012.

“I would be worried if I was APS and I was reading this stat because it tells me that parents are voting with their feet on where they take their kids and how they view APS right now,” said Rep. Ryan Lane, R- Aztec. “So I hope the APS will take notice.”

Evaluators said the APS “systematically overstates” spending, particularly in general supplies and materials, with an average between 2017 and 2021 of about $30 million in overstated spending in this category.

And yet, according to the evaluators, the district has claimed an “apparent deficit” about every year, which stems in part from budgeted revenues exceeding expenditure assumptions that “do not eventually materialize.”

This is allowed by the state Department of Public Education as long as school districts can cover the difference with cash, LFC evaluators noted, but this rule contributes to apparent shortfalls. They added that realistically the districts weren’t using all their money to close that gap.

In fact, they said APS has maintained excess cash balances, consistently exceeding its 5% operating expense target since 2014. In 2021, it was $11 million above its 5% target.

Labor expenses

Rising APS spending can also be tempered by consolidating kindergarten through grade six and general grades, most of which are under-enrolled. Kindergarten classes, they said, saw the “largest drop of any grade” of 2,700 students since 2012.

Falling enrollment in these lower grades, along with faltering birth rates, “will mean further declines in enrollment in years to come,” the evaluators warned.

Other spending areas to work on, assessors say, include a workforce that over the past 10 years has only shrunk by 3%, despite a 17% decline in enrollment over that period. . Funded but unfilled positions also play a role in apparent shortfalls, Dry said.

According to the school funding formula for 2022, APS schools should have 8,753 full-time employees, but actually have 9,169. This means the district had 492 more K-12 teachers than the formula. expected, but 357 fewer special education teachers and assistants than recommended.

“APS faces the challenge of adapting its workforce and physical infrastructure to the reality of its declining student population,” the reviewers wrote.

Vacancies on the rise

In keeping with a trend across the country and state, teacher vacancies have increased at APS, particularly in “low-income schools” and special education, but program evaluator Clayton Lobaugh said school vacancies have not yet factored into declining enrollment. .

“Some positions might no longer be needed if the classes were the right size,” he said.

As an example, APS could tackle both under-enrolled elementary and sixth-grade classes and overstaffing by combining classes and reducing teaching positions by about 42, evaluators said. . They would essentially be replaced by 13 EAs, as larger classes are usually entitled to them.

Evaluators said the majority of kindergarten through sixth grade, or 60% to 74%, of classes and grade levels were enrolled below capacity, providing “opportunities for consolidation”.

The majority of APS students — 67% in particular — were considered “at risk” in 2022, the assessors wrote, meaning an allocation of $71.6 million in public funds.

“At risk” students include low-income students and those learning English. According to mid-year assessments, students in the district, and low-income students in particular, have experienced slower skill growth compared to pre-pandemic rates. Evaluators noted that high school graduation rates, while improving, were below national averages.

APS said in a press release that those rates have improved over the past seven years and now stand at around 80% when excluding charter schools.

Lower-income students also tended to have higher absenteeism rates, according to data from APS and PED.

More class time

Evaluators said the APS should use publicly funded, “evidence-based” programs like Extended Learning Time or K-5 Plus to help address achievement issues.

On April 6, APS board members rejected a proposal to implement extended learning time and the Transformative Opportunities Pilot Schools Model in Elementary, which would have added days and overtime throughout the district. They cited community disapproval as a factor in their decision.

“For my teaching staff, it was largely just ‘we’re tired, we’re exhausted – even (for) 10 more days,'” Elder said. remember teachers saying ‘enough, I won’t take any more money, because I can’t do anything more.’

Models that add classroom time could allow for greater professional development for staff, as well as improve student test scores and college readiness, evaluators said. However, APS has not capitalized on all of the funds the state has made available for such models, evaluators said, forfeiting about $46 million in 2021.

Senator Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, was sympathetic to teacher burnout, noting that educators she spoke with pointed to improved morale and hope, and that this would be key to encouraging extended learning time programs.

“We don’t have that buy-in, the teachers are burnt out, and so if we can’t change the environment, we have to improve it and improve the way we interact with each other so that we recognize that socio-element. -emotional within the staff as well,” she said.

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