ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The construction crews were hard at work Monday at Valley High School, working to build a new gym. Work was moving along at the start of the week, but it could soon be forced to take a long break.
Albuquerque Public Schools said in a summary presented to the school board that that project and dozens of others will have to soon be held up because of a pending lawsuit over how the district handled the February election to approve mill levy and bond funding.
“This is a huge issue for the school district,” said attorney and former APS board member Marty Esquivel. “All of the money that goes to the bricks and mortars of our schools, maintenance of our schools, millions and millions of dollars to keep our schools operating are in play here.”
APS declined KRQE News 13’s request to discuss the lawsuit or its effects. However, in a document set to be presented to a board committee Monday evening, district staff says the pending lawsuit will increase costs for projects that will have to be stopped, will undermine student instruction, compromise school safety and hurt the local construction industry.
The lawsuit at the center of it all was filed earlier this year by attorney Robert Pidcock.
“The point of this litigation is to actually protect the children and protect the taxpayers’ money as to how it’s spent for the children,” Pidcock said. “If APS had complied with the law then there wouldn’t be a lawsuit.”
In his lawsuit, Pidcock alleges the district broke the law in several ways in its handling of the February election.
He claims a nearly $5 million health clinic for APS employees and administrators is an illegal use of the money. He objects to voters being asked to either approve all of the projects or reject all of them instead of being able to do things like approve only certain projects.
“APS puts it all in one big bundle and makes you say yes or no to the entire bundle,” Pidcock said. “The public when they vote and give money to APS to build buildings is not thinking APS is going to go out and build another gym somewhere with it. They’re thinking it’s going to actually help kids in their education.”
Another big allegation is that the district misled voters by not including legally required language on the ballot.
“They changed the mandatory language on the ballot that the legislature requires, to delete the word tax and substitute mill levy for it,” Pidcock said.
On Thursday, district court Judge Nan Nash denied a school district motion to toss the entire case, allowing it to move forward.
“There’s going to be a lot of pressure to get this thing decided but, you know, the wheels of justice grind slowly and there’s no deadline for a court to make any decisions here,” Esquivel said. “Without the parties sitting down and coming to a compromise this thing is heading for a year and a half of legal battle 12:26 and in the meantime things are just not going to get done and in the end that’s a sad thing for the kids.”