Board Passes Budget, Gets New Member

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By John Severance

The Los Alamos Board of Education has a budget and a new school board member.

At a special meeting Saturday, the school board approved a $33.1 million budget and named Dawn Venhaus as its newest member.

Venhaus lives in White Rock and will replace Thelma Hahn, who announced her resignation two weeks ago.
Venhaus and her family moved to New Mexico in 1998 and to the Los Alamos area in 2001. Her husband Tom works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and she has two children, Graeyson and Elannah. The board voted unanimously to approve her appointment.

Venhaus, who was the only one to turn in an application for the board, has a background in science with a bachelors degree in physics and a masters in atmospheric science from William and Mary in Virginia.

Before moving to Los Alamos, Venahus worked for NASA and Jefferson Labs. When she moved to the area with her family, she became a substitute teacher in the school system.

When asked what her strengths were, Venahus said, “I am good at talking to people and finding out what are their concerns and what do they like to see. I do a lot of talking. But I can look at the big picture and find out what is good for everybody.”

Venhaus said she has removed herself from the substitute teacher list.

“I have extricated myself from everything that could be a conflict,” she said.

McKinley said Venhaus will be sworn in by a judge this week and will be able to take part fully in Thursday’s school board meeting.

Going into last Thursday night’s Los Alamos Board of Education meeting it appeared as though passage of the district’s $33.1 million budget was all but a done deal. However, some last-minute questions stalled the board vote leaving the budget item tabled.

School Board President Melanie McKinley took issue with several line items in the budget and asked Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe to explain the items. Wolfe attempted to justify the items, but McKinley was not satisfied with his answers. As a result, Wolfe and McKinley met Friday to go over the budget, line by line, and they resolved all the issues.

With the issues resolved, the board voted unanimously to pass the budget.

On another matter, McKinley said the board made a decision regarding two dance troupes wanting to use Smith Auditorium during the winter months.

Two local ballet troupes approached the Los Alamos School Board requesting permission to perform The Nutcracker during the 2011 winter season. Dance Arts Los Alamos had a signed contract with the district for the use of Smith Auditorium during December 2011 for their performance. New Mexico Dance Theater, who did not have a signed contract, sought permission to perform their interpretation of The Nutcracker by requesting permission from the Los Alamos School Board to the use Smith Auditorium for their ballet in November.

To clarify the Board’s decision, McKinley released the following statement.

“It was the decision of the Los Alamos School Board to deny the use of Smith Auditorium by New Mexico Dance Theater to perform The Nutcracker. In the rental agreement for Smith, the School Board has the ability to deny the use of the theater if the proposed event “presents a potential conflict to the market target of a previously scheduled event. Criteria include market saturation...”

“It was the Board’s opinion, having both dance troupes perform The Nutcracker within a 30-day period created market saturation. However, the Board was in agreement that Dance Arts Los Alamos did not own the exclusive rights to perform The Nutcracker in Los Alamos. That is why, when the Board denied the New Mexico Dance Theater’s request, the Board also gave New Mexico Dance Theater the first right to submit a show of their choice in 2012 as long as their request was submitted to the district office by January 31, 2012.

“Both dance troupes were asked whether they wanted school board member Kevin Honnell to recuse himself from this decision since he had performed as Mother Ginger in the Dance Arts Los Alamos production in one performance last year. Both dance troupes indicated that they did not want him to recuse himself.

“Unfortunately, there are times when we simply cannot make everyone happy. Since Dance Arts Los Alamos had signed up first this year, we felt the Board must honor that request. Next year, it will be New Mexico Dance Theater’s turn. Speaking on behalf of the Board, I hope this alleviates community concerns.”