We all overreach from time to time, pushing boundaries while feeling emboldened. Sometimes we get away with it, though sometimes we get our hand slapped in reprimand.
Albuquerque Public Schools finds themselves scolded after last week, as 104,000 voters (who historically approve any bond sent our way) resoundingly voted down one bond and two mill levy questions.
Distaste for these questions is multi-faceted. With legislators in Santa Fe considering additional taxes and pinches, while also promising more school funding, the spectre of an APS double dip is frightening. (So scary in fact that the City of Albuquerque dropped off a proposed shared ballot due to the 19 percent APS tax rate increase.)
Perhaps more painful for APS leadership is the $1 million price tag paid in attempt to mitigate mandates of the Local Election Act passed last year (i.e. suppress voter turnout), which requires school-related issues move to November of odd-numbered years (a.k.a. 2019.)
“Unfortunately”—instead of the usual single-digit turnout—nearly 30 percent of voters cast ballots.
Also unfortunate are the wrongheaded lessons Superintendent Reedy, her team, and most ardent board supporters have taken away. Boardmember Petersen said, “I think we underestimated the amount of misinformation, the amount of outright misleading … and we didn’t answer it with honest fact.”
Surely it can’t be anything else but voter ignorance. Though wouldn’t alleviating ignorance fall in the lap of a particular local entity? One that, say, aims to educate our children?
More alarming, “executive director of the APS capital master plan” (say that 5x fast) Kizito Wijenje writes to Joe Monahan: “We choose to blind ourselves to facts and instead listen to armchair pundits and faux think tanks ... I assure you, there will be pain, in lost jobs, lost workforce, and sadly the suffering of children especially in the neediest of neighborhoods. The only hole is the one our community has dug itself in with this election result.”
This is exactly the anti-accountability, blame-and-shame mindset voters are tired of from APS leadership. Kizito says he loves some facts, here are some:
APS has an annual budget over $1.3 billion;
APS has fewer students now than in the 1970s, and its student population has gone from more than 90,000 in 2010 to under 82,000 this year;
From 2006 to 2017, APS administrative spending increased by 17.5 percent, while classroom spending went up only 7.4 percent;
Kizito makes $111,467.11 in annual salary (plus benefits), making him the 18th highest paid employee in APS and one of 31 central office staff making $100k+ a year; and
The first mill levy question, which was not an increase but a continuation of $190 million over six years, would have paid for much-needed maintenance.
This is the new reality of school issues and APS must adjust accordingly. No longer will board elections or bond issues be decided in early February by a small contingent of voters stirred up by the board and ATF.
Even longtime APS educators expressed concern about the lack of communication and accountability from district leadership. We’re happy to fund our schools but expect results and actual leadership in return. The era of the blank check and no questions asked is over.
The truth is that Albuquerque supports our schools (despite a chronic inability to make improvements at scale) but doubt the ability of current leadership to make changes and get dollars to teachers and classrooms. That’s the key lesson Kizito, Raquel, Barb and the rest should walk away with.