I have taken a closer look at the Albuquerque Public Schools’ $616 million bond measure and have my questions/concerns. First and foremost, the election date is February 2nd, but early voting is taking place right now and continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Friday, Jan. 29, at the following locations:
* Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office Annex, 620 Lomas NW
* APS Building, 6400 Uptown Blvd. NE
* Alamosa Community Center, 6900 Gonzales Road SW
* Don Newton Multi-Generational Center (Taylor Ranch Community Center), 4900 Kachina St. NW.
Here are some significant issues that voters must carefully consider:
— Although proponents argue that property taxes will not go up as a result of this bond issue, the fact is that property taxes would fall significantly if this measure were to fail. Since Albuquerque taxpayers pay property taxes at a rate 25% higher than any of the top ten cities in New Mexico, one could certainly argue that it is time for a tax cut, especially in light of what I believe are some problems/wastes of resources in Albuquerque’s Public School system;
— New Mexico has a law on the books called “Davis-Bacon.” This law mandates that all government construction projects pay something called the “prevailing wage” which is essentially an inflated union wage. There is a federal Davis-Bacon law which applies to federal construction projects, but New Mexico is one of 25 or so states that enforce the prevailing wage at the state level as well.
These laws typically raise labor costs by 25% and total construction costs by 10%. On a project costing more than $100 million like the new Volcano Vista High School on the west side, we are talking about real cost savings if Davis-Bacon were repealed;
— Another unnecessary cost-driver – that is, something that makes project costs unnecessarily high – is the pursuit of LEED Certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Arguably, but not necessarily (for reasons I won’t go into here), building to LEED standards includes increased energy efficiency. But that is only part of the story.
Obtaining LEED certification is an arduous, paperwork-intensive process that costs a lot of money. Estimates are that it raises building costs by 10% or more. Ironically, the certification process is completely unnecessary. In fact, APS could build to LEED standards relatively cheaply without going through the time-consuming and intensive certification process.
— Lastly, APS could save money by transitioning to modular school design or at least limiting the number of school floor plans used. Although specific data on this was difficult to come by in my research, I do know that modular construction is not widely used in APS projects and architects are hired on an ad hoc basis to design schools. Clearly, significant cost savings could be realized in this area as well.