Ellen Presents to the Board on Working/Learning Conditions

ATF President Ellen Bernstein delivered this summary of the Working Conditions are Learning Conditions Campaign to the APS Board of Education on Wednesday, September 15, 2021.


Soon APS will receive $230 million from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan. In preparation, the APS leadership conducted a listening tour asking for input so that the Board can prioritize and fine tune how that influx of money should be spent.

Concurrently the Albuquerque Teachers Federation implemented a campaign we called Working Conditions are Learning Conditions.

The goal of this 4-step plan was to organize the collective voice of your employees and influence how you, as the APS Board of Education, prioritize your spending.

Our union’s goal is to ensure that APS students and educators work and learn in conditions that are WELCOMING, HEALTHY & SAFE!”

Our union believes that it is unacceptable to condemn educators and students to suffering in sweltering classrooms in the summer months that become near-freezing classrooms in the winter. Our HVAC woes recur every year and we believe it is high time to solve these problems.

We know that students must have basic needs of shelter, food and emotional well-being met before they can learn and process new information. The current cooling situation is detrimental to students’ learning! We believe that a significant one-time investment of federal funds can set us on the course to meeting the basic, most-pressing needs of our students and staff.

We know that Educators’ Working Conditions Are Students’ Learning Conditions. We need immediate investment in our schools and believe that APS’s current proposed priorities are upside down. We must lay a firm foundation for a highly functioning school system.

Why Now? This year, our district’s chronically ailing HVAC condition has become acute. Why?

  • Too many funding cuts over too many years
  • Not enough well-paid technicians to fix the problems
  • HVAC that is basically unfixable

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation firmly believes that the key to meeting our educator shortage is RETENTION of those who already choose to serve our students. The #1 reason educators leave the profession: Working Conditions.


Step 1:

Our Immediate Needs

“Working Conditions Are Learning Conditions” petition


ATF collected signatures calling for immediate relief to classrooms whose air conditioning is not functioning. APS educators stated that we:

  • Know that our working conditions are student’s learning conditions
  • Can no longer accept explanations that now feel like excuses for why we can’t have basic needs met.
  • Need immediate relief in our schools
  • Agree that it is reasonable to invest in the temporary comfort of staff and students while the permanent units are being repaired or replaced because educators’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

Petition Results

Over 2,400 APS educators signed the petition and agreed that the district should invest a small amount of money to provide some immediate relief for our classrooms.

  • Reimbursement of individuals who purchase coolers to meet our students’ needs and provision for schools’ ability to purchase fans and coolers.
  • Investment in the broadband necessary to ensure there is stable internet for the 81 schools where HVAC systems are controlled remotely.


Step 2

In the Short-Term

“Working Conditions Are Learning Conditions” survey

The focus in the APS draft spending plan on “unfinished learning” is understandable with $11 million earmarked to expand summer learning opportunities.

However, what student or educator wants to work deeper into the summer if they are doomed to deeply uncomfortable working and learning conditions.

We believe that a good portion of this money should be spent on making our schools welcoming, healthy, and safe.

Survey Results

We found that almost 60% of educators who answered the survey believe that the greatest need for spending this one-time infusion of cash is to fix our HVAC systems once and for all so that our students and the educators who serve them are not burning in the summer and freezing in the winter.

Educators were asked to rank the categories set forth in APS’s ESSER III (ARPA) Spending Plan As of 8/19/21 in order of the spending needs in our district.

Over 900 educators answered our survey. The graph below shows that of APS’s spending priorities and the percentage of APS educators who believed each one should be the top spending priority.

To summarize:

  • Almost 60% of those responding believed we need a massive infusion of cash into the infrastructure of our schools so that we can meet the basic needs of students and staff. The primary need cited was repair and replacement of HVAC systems. (Over 18% of respondents chose this as their 2nd ranked priority.)
  • 13% ranked Social Emotional & Mental Health Services for students and staff as their top priority (29% ranked this 2nd).
  • 10% ranked Unfinished Learning Initiatives as their top priority. This is in stark contrast to the district’s plan to spend 40% of the funds to combat “learning loss.”
  • 9% of educators ranked Technology Initiatives as their primary concern with many of them citing the need for educators and students to have charging cables and charging stations, as well as Promethean Board updates.
  • 8% of those responding felt Budget Stabilization was the greatest need.

This is not to say that the ATF does not believe that our students and staff could benefit from spending in all these areas. For example, Budget Stabilization would hold schools harmless and allow them to serve our students in smaller pupil to teacher ratios.

We are certainly not saying “no” to all the items listed under Unfinished Learning Initiatives, but we know that our students’ physical health must come first if they are to learn to their potential. Following the work laid out in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we wholeheartedly embrace investment in providing our students and staff with the social emotional and mental health staffing our schools need.

We hear over and over each year that someday our schools’ heating and cooling systems will be fully functioning. But that day never comes.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to right our HVAC situation by investing a good deal of the American Rescue Plan money to bolster our schools’ infrastructures. The basic comfort of our students and staff that will allow them to perform their jobs merits more than the $28 million outlined in APS’s plan.

Quotes from Educators

“It’s difficult to meet the educational and emotional needs of our students when our most basic facility needs are not being met. How are students expected to learn and educators expected to educate when merely sitting in our classrooms induces illnesses related to heat exhaustion?”

“Year after year, teachers struggle with having no heat or AC. Having a very uncomfortable learning environment makes learning so much harder for kids and elevates the stress levels of staff immensely.”

“I believe in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The money needs to go towards students having a comfortable environment for learning. The first week of school this year, my classroom was almost 90 degrees. It is impossible for students to learn in that condition. The buildings need to be updated.”

“HVAC is impacting the health and well-being of our staff and students on a daily basis. The temperatures are affecting learning, classroom engagement, nurse visits, and these in turn all affect the mental health of everyone on campus.  HVAC is also a concern because not all rooms have adequate outdoor ventilation and solely rely on the vents that open into their room. For schools during regular school years, this is a concern. During an ongoing pandemic, it is a great concern!”

“Academics can only be addressed in APS if students are safe and comfortable. I need to take my students outside every afternoon because my classroom is so hot. The focus on technology feels impractical when our school district doesn’t even have reliable wifi.”

“It’s inhumanely hot in many of the classrooms in our school.  Expecting students to learn or even behave in those conditions is ridiculous; it’s hard on teachers to remain patient and focused as well. There is little to no ventilation as well, and we’re demanding that these kids keep their masks on in heat and stagnant air. It’s impossible.”

“The AC keeps breaking, and so I am worried about the heating system when it does get cold.”

“We are still without AC as of September 10, 2021, and it is negatively impacting learning.”

“Uncomfortably hot classrooms are making it nearly impossible for students who are also wearing masks to focus. As an adult resource teacher in several classrooms, I have found the majority of rooms very hot. Many have no working cooling system and the rest have inadequate cooling. It’s time to take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to upgrade HVAC and swamp cooling systems for the health of our students and educators!”


Step 3

In the Long-Term

Long-Term Solution: ATF Endorses 2021 APS Bond/Mill Levy

The ATF Federation Representative Council voted in favor of a motion to support the APS Bond and Mill Levy Questions on the ballot for the November 2, 2021, election. Voter approval of this Bond and Mill Levy package will directly provide the APS Capital Master Plan with a projected $630 Million for improvements to our grounds and equipment over six years. Read the full motion at atfunion.org.

*Excerpts from ATF Motion Supporting a “YES” Vote on the November 2021 APS Mill Levy & Bond Proposal*

“Whereas, the APS Capital Master Plan will boost the local economy by generating millions of dollars in construction activity each year; and

Whereas, educator working environments and student learning environments are one and the same and, as such, optimal teaching and learning conditions depend on safe, up-to-date, well-maintained, and climate-controlled facilities; and,

Whereas, the planned school enhancements and improvements will benefit APS students, educators, and the local community now and into the future while containing no tax increase; and

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) recommends a “YES” vote on the Mill Levy question and the GO Bond question on the ballot in the November 2, 2021, Election; and

Be it further resolved, that members of the ATF Federation Representative Council  urge  all union members to encourage every  APS employee, their families, friends and registered voters to vote FOR approval of the Mill Levy and General Obligation Bond questions between October  5 and November  2,  2021.”

One More Important Opportunity to Attract and Retain APS Educators

ATF proposes that APS spend some of the American Rescue Plan money on student loan debt relief. This is a big opportunity. APS can take advantage of Section 127 of the Federal Code, which allows school districts to use the CARES Act, and later the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) money to provide reimbursement of up to $5,250 per year to each employee who has student debt.

We are fighting for this because we know it will help us retain educators in our classrooms.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation conducted a survey of educators to determine the number of workers who are suffering from high levels of student loan debt and how that debt is affecting the educators and their families. Over 1,000 educators responded.

Student Loan Debt Survey Results

  • Our data so far shows the average individual debt is $48,000.
  • 900 educators owed over $42 million collectively.
  • Together, they make almost a quarter of a million dollars in payments each month.
  • The average monthly payment is $315.

Here’s what educators had to say about student loan debt:

“I am almost finished paying off my debt, but if I didn’t have it, I could have put a nice down payment on a home years ago, or traveled.”

“My wife and I live paycheck to paycheck. Aside from our mortgage payment, the second highest expense we have in each paycheck is our student loan debt. We are both on Income Driven Repayment. We forego any extra expenses beyond our basic needs.”

“I have to take on side jobs to afford normal expenses. This takes focus and energy away from my career and family. I am not able to volunteer or take on extra duties at school that I would like too.”

“I give plasma to pay my student loan payment.”

Student Debt – Big Picture

  • Student debt impacts 44+ million Americans (around 1 in 4)
  • $1.5 trillion student debt owed – 2nd largest category of consumer debt
  • Graduates owe $37,172 on average, $20,000 more than 13 years ago
  • Default rate doubled from 2003-2011, 40% expected to default by 2023

Every 1% increase in student debt decreases likelihood of owning a home by 15%


  • Student debt is a greater problem for younger educators and people of color
  • Student debt is the biggest financial burden most educators face
  • Student debt takes a psychological toll on educators
  • Many educators report falling behind or struggling to pay bills

I can’t afford to be a teacher anymore.”


When we lift together, we can move mountains! JOIN YOUR UNION TODAY!

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