I run the Rio Grande Foundation, New Mexico’s free market think tank. We opposed the recent property tax hike, but like everyone else, I want a high quality education for all New Mexicans. I have three young children, two of whom are in Albuquerque Public Schools schools, so I feel I have plenty at stake in the education discussions happening in both Santa Fe and APS.
So, for starters, I find it troubling that Kizito Wijenje, executive director of the APS Capital Master Plan recently called my organization a “faux think tank.” I’m not even sure what that means, but if he has specific data that questions or counters what we stated during the campaign over the APS tax hike, I’d love to know what it is. Most often we simply publicized and replicated data from APS and other objective sources.
For example, their own budget clearly shows that the district is spending $16,5000 per student. While federal averages are tricky and data often lag, there is no question that $16,500 is a significant investment per student. Not only is APS going to be getting a significant infusion of operating expenses via the Legislature, but according to the National Education Association capital spending by New Mexico schools per-pupil is higher than any neighboring state. If APS (New Mexico’s largest school district by far) is somehow NOT spending as much as other districts on capital, then we’d love to know what APS is using to benchmark its capital spending against other districts.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to reduce capital outlay costs. One is by repealing the law that artificially increases construction costs on roads and schools. This law is known as “Davis-Bacon” or “prevailing wage”. Legislation (HB 377) was introduced in this session that would have repealed New Mexico’s “prevailing wage” law saving the District 10 percent or more on its construction costs, but no one from APS spoke in favor of the bill when it was heard in the House Labor Committee.
Instead, as education blogger Seth Saavedra noted in a recent blog posting, the District seems to have learned the wrong lessons from the recent tax hike defeat. APS has already announced that it has frozen facility maintenance. The decision smacks of punishing the students as opposed to any real budget shortfall, but RGF and others are researching the District’s budget situation for details. The District’s own budget document estimates $321.7 million in capital spending during 2018-2019. It would seem that a freeze in maintenance would be unnecessary.
There are many ways that APS could be more transparent and efficient in its capital spending. The Rio Grande Foundation is ready and willing to help. Baseless accusations won’t help. We need an honest and open dialogue for the benefit of our children.