Albuquerque teachers union reacts to COVID bonuses falling through

Education

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It is disappointing news for Albuquerque Public School employees who thought they were getting some extra money for working through the pandemic, but the state auditor stepped in and said that money is not legal. Tuesday, the superintendent of APS broke the news that the bonus won’t be coming as promised.

The teachers union said this is a huge disappointment. The state auditor said APS should have done more research before making any promises. It’s a letdown for many. “I am incredibly disappointed and I am sad,” Ellen Bernstein with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation said.

One-thousand-dollar checks for full-time APS employees and $500 checks for part-time employees are off the table for now. The district made the announcement Tuesday in a video message. “I was very disheartened to learn that the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office raised concerns that the proposed efforts to compensate you, violated the New Mexico State Constitution,” Superintendent Scott Elder said in the announcement.

Elder said that the State Auditor’s Office raised concerns that this violated the state constitution, pointing to a provision that doesn’t allow public employees to have their contracts adjusted and receive payment for work already completed. “We would have encouraged the administration to do its research prior to making the announcements about bonus for its employees,” State Auditor Brian Colon said. “What we know is APS employees have been working diligently, including my wife and often putting themselves at risk to serve our community. The administration should have found a way to properly compensate them that complies with the letter and the law.”

Bernstein believes this may have been avoided if the district made plans for compensation earlier in the year, to avoid legal issues with paying for work already complete at year-end. “I think we were a little late,” Bernstein said. “Most of the people in the district are now off-contract. Not all of them, but a lot. The issue comes in of when was the work done and what are you paying for? There are a lot of legal intricacies that, apparently, we were not aware of.”

Elder said the money may not arrive by June 25 as expected, but said they are working with the union, state auditor, and PED on a plan to pay employees for the extra COVID-related work in the future. “We don’t have a remedy yet,” Bernstein said. “That is what we are working on. As soon as we have one, we will announce it.”

Elder said the bonuses were coming from federal stimulus funds. Some other school districts gave out COVID compensation this year, like Hobbs back in March. That was mostly paid for with money from vacant positions and state funding.

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