ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With a 17% decline in student enrollment over the last decade, a new state report suggests Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) should “right-size” its workforce and consider “consolidating” classrooms. While the Legislative Finance Committee report doesn’t specifically call for job cuts or school closures, it suggests APS is faced with the “challenge of adjusting its workforce and physical infrastructure to the reality of its declining student population.”

“Falling birth rates and increased enrollment in Albuquerque charter schools are driving down enrollment in APS schools,” the report says. “Most APS elementary school grades and classes are currently enrolled below statutory maximums, presenting opportunities for consolidation.”

“Consolidating classrooms” potentially means changes to classes with relatively low student numbers. Those classes could be combined into a single class to reduce expenses. This could also help ease the current shortage of special education teachers and the shortage of teachers at low-income schools, the report says.

At the same time, the LFC claims that overall, APS has more teachers than it needs. According to the LFC’s calculations, APS hired 492 too many kindergartens through 12th-grade teachers, while under hiring special education teachers and educational assistants. These numbers come after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham asked New Mexicans to step-in as additional substitute teachers.

The LFC report acknowledges that APS has begun to “address the need to right-size,” noting that in recent board meetings and news articles, APS officials reported the district would need to reduce staff positions by 5%, refine its full-time employee allocation processes, and continue efforts to recruit students.

“APS is cutting funded but vacant positions. There is currently a hiring freeze, current employees may be shifted as needed, and classes could be consolidated,” the report states.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder responded in a letter to the LFC. “Like many New Mexico districts, APS faces challenges, including declining enrollment, aging facilities, and unfinished learning,” he wrote. “While we are using unprecedented federal resources to address some of these issues, we recognize that nonrenewable funds make staffing and instructional changes unsustainable. Therefore, we are investing in infrastructure, school-day expansion, and salaries for support staff who provide at-risk services.”

He also notes that despite challenges, APS’s four-year graduation rate has increased. “When excluding charter schools, the APS graduation rate is now 80.3%,” he wrote in the letter.

Spending increase highlighted

The LFC report also claims that APS has increased spending, despite a decrease in enrolled students. From the fiscal year 2012 to the fiscal year 2021, enrollment declined by 12% while actual spending increased by 23%, the numbers show. And inflation doesn’t account for the increase, according to the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC).

One potential issue is the improper use of school procurement funds. KRQE News 13 previously reported on the high-profile example of Sheryl Williams Stapleton, the now-former state representative and Albuquerque Public Schools administrator accused of orchestrating lucrative contracts for a company called Robotics, which was providing educational software to APS students.

The LFC report notes that APS has looked into the issue. But there’s still work to be done, according to the report.

“Since April 2021, APS has taken actions to strengthen its oversight of procurement,” the report says. “However, LFC staff also identified areas where the district’s internal auditing unit and charter school division could redirect or enhance resources to reduce potential risks.”

To rectify any potential spending problems, the LFC recommends that APS diversifies its internal audits each year. The idea is that by examining spending from different funds each year, APS might be able to better identify and correct problems.

The report also noted that APS buildings need work. Over the last five years, the district’s buildings have been in increasing need of repair, the report notes. Schools serving low-income students tend to need more repairs.

This is a developing news story. KRQE News 13 expects an update later today.

Full LFC Report

APS Response Letter to the LFC Report