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Board set to decide payback timing

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Education > District officials look for direction on repayment issue

By Tris DeRoma

During its meeting in July, the Los Alamos Board of Education will unveil a plan to pay back the $218,000 it owes New Mexico’s Public Education Department.

In May, the PED notified all of the school districts throughout the state that it may have paid them too much or too little in funding to help with at-risk students due to an alphabetization error.

As it turned out, Los Alamos was paid too much, to the tune of $218,000.

At that meeting, the board will then make a recommendation to the district as to what options it should pursue.

“We would like your guidance,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt said to the board. “That guidance could be to pay it all back in one lump sum, it could be to pay it back 1/12th the amount monthly over the course of a year, or we could delay it for five years.”

Schmidt also revealed to the board that while it owes the PED $218,000, the PED will be paying out $182,000 in special education funding, leaving just around $36,000 to ultimately refund the state agency. Schmidt also said that since district has been meeting its “maintenance of effort” goals in regards to special education, the state will allow the district to use the $182,000 toward anything it wants. The district has already budgeted $5.6 million toward special education, $500,000 more than it already needs to meet the MOE requirements.

Even though the meeting isn’t until July, the board still discussed its options at length at a Thursday work session.

Board member Dr. Kevin Honnell recommended the board take the money out of the district’s lease program.

“We still have a $36,000 gap,” Honnell said. “There are two ways to take off a band aid. You can bite your lip, rip it off and get on with your life, or you can pull it off real slow over 12 months and stretch it out. If we owe some money, let’s just take it out of the lease funds, because that’s what the lease money is for. Let’s just get this behind us and go forward.”

In July, the district will bring the board two options, to pay it back over 12 months or the “band aid” approach. The options will be accompanied by a presentation showing the affects to the district’s cash flow depending on what option the decides upon.

Schmidt said that paying it all back in September may be a viable option, since that is the month the U.S. Department of Energy allocates its annual $8 million in funding support to the district.

“We’re very open to bring the board a couple of different scenarios,” Schmidt told the board.