Belt-tightening continues for LAPS

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Further cuts needs to be made from the district budget

By Jennifer Garcia

Education leaders from around the state spent the latter part of the week at a conference in Albuquerque, hoping to gain an understanding of exactly how much they are expected to trim from their budgets.
During the legislative session, Gov. Susana Martinez said districts could expect to make a 1.5 percent reduction in their budgets, however, Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera recently announced that the unit value used in school funding is down by 3.4 percent, $126.20 per student, rather than the 1.5 percent Martinez talked about.
Districts already were anticipating cuts because of a halt in federal stimulus dollars and lower state funding. Now they are faced with having to make even deeper cuts.
“There is no budget ‘shortfall,’ the amount of money set aside for New Mexico schools is the same today as it was when the legislative session ended,” Skandera said. “We have invested $56 million more state dollars in our classrooms than last year. We promised to slash the education bureaucracy; this balanced budget protects classroom spending, invests in our priorities and cuts less than 1.5 percent in waste and administration compared to last year’s budget. We’ve kept that promise.”
The announcement on unit value was part of the spring budget workshop for districts, held annually.
Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Gene Schmidt and LAPS Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe attended the workshop.
“We thought we had the two percent cuts, but now we have to find another 1.7 percent (to cut),” Schmidt said. “That’s about a million dollars. We were anticipating around $600,000 (in cuts). We’re disappointed with this news, but we’ll balance the budget.”
Because the district was already anticipating having to make cuts, the Long Range Financial Planning Committee conducted several public surveys in March, which asked residents to place values on school programs. The LRFPC was going to use the results as a guide, to help it determine where cuts should be made for LAPS. Schmidt said that the intent is still for the surveys to be used as a guide for these additional cuts.
Wolfe said the LAPS budget is due to the state on May 25 and the school board will have the opportunity to approve it through the final commission sometime after the board meeting the week of May 10.
“That’s the approximate date. We’re already talking about a special board meeting on April 21,” Wolfe said. “In the meeting we’re going to go through the surveys and talk to the public and lay out where we stand because we’ll have a better outlook.”
He said there will be another Long Range Financial Planning Committee meeting next week to talk about numbers before anything is taken to the board on April 21.
Schmidt said balancing the budget and determining where to make cuts has been a process they’ve been going through.
“I want to end it with a compliment for John,” Schmidt said. “The work has been very comprehensive with 1,000 or so survey responses, we have a good idea of what is valued … I want to compliment the chief financial officer and the business department for scouring the budget for ways to look at what we have now and utilize that for the future. Now we actually have to say what we’re going to do and cut the budget.”
Schmidt said the district is always looking for little things that will generate money. One bright spot in an otherwise murky budget outlook is the fact that enrollment is up 24 units, or students.
“A little bump in enrollment generates $75,000 for those 24 kids,” Schmidt said. “We’re looking at every way to put money into next year’s budget. Even having 24 more kids is a good thing.”