Think New Mexico has released their latest report along with a new initiative to improve the state’s public schools by moving over $100 million from school district administrative offices to the classrooms. Founder and Executive Director, Fred Nathan, spoke with KUNM’s Chris Boros.
KUNM: Albuquerque Public Schools is mentioned several times in the report as potentially being able to move millions of dollars to the classrooms by reducing administrative costs. Can you explain how that would happen?
NATHAN: So Think New Mexico is a results oriented think tank and it’s a little bit different than most think tanks which are generally way over on the left or way over the right and we just believe in a state that’s 49th or 50th in too many of these national rankings thank the focus should be on solutions rather than political ideology.
New Mexico’s one of a few states that funds our public schools operating costs mainly from the state level; then it goes through a funding formula which produces essentially 89 block grants for each of the 89 school districts including APS. What we’re recommending for all districts (not just APS) is that for the first time there be essentially two budgets – one for the classroom and one for administrative expenses to make sure that taxpayers and parents and students are getting a decent amount down to the classroom where the actual learning takes place.
KUNM: Do you think it’s realistic for APS to cut from administrative costs over the next few years?
NATHAN: I think it’s realistic for all 89 school districts to do everything they can to deliver more dollars to the classroom. Naturally, APS is the largest district so you would expect the largest savings would occur there but at the same time they’re headed in the right direction including these learning clusters where they’re trying to decentralize the districts and get them closer to the students and that’s consistent with the reforms we are proposing.
KUNM: New Mexico does have a high poverty rate – how does that impact education and doesn’t it make it more challenging for your initiative?
NATHAN: One of the districts that we profile for doing a really good job is Texico with about 560 students – they rank consistently in the top three in the state for their graduation rate and in the top ten for math and reading proficiency. But yet the average medium household income in Texico is about $10,000 less than the statewide average, which suggests that is a good model for all of the districts in New Mexico. And one of the things Texico does particularly well is they do an excellent job of driving dollars to the classroom and minimizing dollars spent in the central administrative office.
KUNM: Are there districts that you think maybe should be consolidated or even broken up?
NATHAN: In terms of consolidation, we’re actually very cautious about that. But one area we did focus on was Las Vegas. Las Vegas has two central administrative offices – one for West Las Vegas and one for Las Vegas so you have two superintendents, two associate superintendents, a lot of duplication. And yet those two separate administrative offices are only about six blocks apart.