Is APS Examining All Savings Opportunities?

Albuquerque Public Schools has drawn plenty of criticism — and rightfully so — for threatening to scrap middle-school sports.

The cut is estimated to save $600,000. That’s a hefty sum to the average citizen, but it represents just 0.04 percent of the district’s billion-dollar-plus budget. Leaving aside the issue of lobbying/PR, there’s no question that such savings could be easily obtained by competitive contracting.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which studies free-market solutions to public problems in Michigan, conducts an annual survey to explore government-school sourcing of food, custodial, and transportation services. In its latest poll, the think tank found that 70.1 percent of districts hire private vendors to provide at least one of the services.

APS has a lot to learn from Michigan. Take transportation. The district has “a series of contracts with providers in the private sector,” but also has its “own bus operations.” In 2015, it “was obligated to take over the bus routes of three of its providers that ceased operations during the fiscal year.” Getting those routes back in the hands of contractors would surely yield savings from the $19.3 million transportation budget.

As for food services, APS spends $50.8 million on 19 “delivery vehicles” that haul “prepared and bulk foods from Central Kitchen to over 140 school sites every day, with most making two trips to each location.” Obtaining just a little more than 1 percent savings from that expense would cover the cost of middle-school sports.

Finally, the Maintenance & Operations Department, tasked with creating “an environment conducive to student achievement and success by providing safe, clean, comfortable, aesthetic, and purposeful indoor and outdoor learning spaces throughout the District in meeting the needs of the education process,” has a $40.3 million budget. Outsourcing the bureaucracy’s duties should be the easiest of the three noninstructional services to “marketize.”

If APS exists to provide education to students in an efficient, accountable manner, then competitive contracting is a no-brainer. If the district exists to offer livelihoods to unionized, politically active employees, then it should ignore outsourcing options and keep doing what it’s doing.