Jack Nicholson, Hanna Skandera and the Case of the $18m APS Shortfall

Your humble blogposter used to write almost exclusively about public K-12 education in New Mexico, but it became, for me, at least a tiny bit like that last scene of Polanski’s “Chinatown.”

No, it didn’t include anybody getting shot and wasn’t filmed on rain-slicked streets in an Art Deco Los Angeles. Yet the famous last line “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” sums up a great deal about, well, everything, but in this case it also poignantly captures my internal struggle with the incredible highs and metaphorical .38 slugs to the eye teaching K-12 in New Mexico holds for me and my fellow practitioners.

As you may know, I got out of “Chinatown” at the end of last semester, and will save for another time the personal ramifications of having done so. Except pointing out that this is my first post on education in over two months. And I enter this hot and emotionally scalding water with even less than a fully dipped toe.

KOB’s Chris Ramirez had a piece of reportage about 61 hours ago, one involving changes in how the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) audit the school district calculation of what are known as “ancillary” Special Education positions. These ancillary jobs are numerous and include, for example, school social workers. Special Education social workers are mental health professionals who work with identified Special Education (SpEd) students who have such service proscribed on their Individual Education Plan (IEP).

Just to take a hypothetical, say a rather “involved” (that’s the typical term employed) SpEd student receives 24 hours of instruction from trained SpEd teachers. The *student’s IEP might also call for 4 hours of social work services a month, and the social work positional FTE is calculated from the accumulation of students with social work hours on their IEPs.

And PED says school districts around New Mexico are rampantly overbilling PED in their calculations. The money quote, literally, from PED Secretary Hanna Skandera:

“Let me give you an example. Perhaps they were to fund a social worker who will work with a student with special needs,” Skandera said. “That social worker spent three hours of their time with the special needs student – not 40 hours – so that worker may be serving other students, but ones with special needs.”

This quote is interesting on several levels. Just taking two considerations, it’s notable that: 1. Skandera’s hyperbole (3 hrs. v. 40 hrs.) is so outrageous and unrealistic, it seems to reflect a level of anger firmly in the “bureaucratic road rage” category; 2. She gets the total wrong, perhaps deliberately, with use of “40 hours.” Such calculations are based on 35 hours, not 40, but who’s counting?

Well, PED is, and that counting is evidently leading to districts losing funding. As the KOB story notes, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) looks to lose $18m. That’s well more than the combined cost of the controversial APS employee health clinic and reverting its high school schedule to the previous, sane, configuration. That figure is, okay, I’m not teaching middle school any more, so I can say this, a shitload of money.

Such a shitload (and yes, I am rather enjoying being able to write “shitload” here), that you’d think other news entities around Burque and New Mexico would be following up on the story, even if that follow-up consisted of correcting the KOB story for details, or another one of those “we can’t believe APS is so stupid/corrupt” angles, or even reporting that such a sizable funding cut doesn’t exist at all. Because right now, and for 61 hours, the only thing APS taxpayers know is that their school district is to be even more hurting for cash than was previously thought.

And that seems like a news story, doesn’t it?

Which was always a big part of the “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” soul-crushing experience for your humble blogposter. Don’t more people need to know more about this stuff? Don’t we need to ask more and more highly informed, in-depth questions to our K-12 educational leadership in this state? Are we just gonna stop after hearing we lost $18m because Hanna Skandera says so?

As I mentioned earlier, this is a very tiny toe dip in some very emotionally scalding water. So that I might begin treatment on the “toe,” let me just close by throwing out a few links regarding this situation. Maybe somebody else out there is willing to “cannonball” fully into the pool. I’ll just give you, poor sucker, the diving board:

I double-dog dare you to dive in.  Triple-dog.


*Note: Students in New Mexico identified as “Gifted” are, unlike pretty much any other state in the nation, considered “SpEd” students and have IEPs. Despite this, they are NOT eligible for SpEd social work services on their IEP. If I ever, ever decide to write on K-12 education again, it will probably be a 10,000 word tirade about how stupid this policy is. 


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