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Bond forum turns into rally

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By Tris DeRoma

Though there were only 13 people in the audience, mostly public officials or former educators who showed up at a forum designed to educate the public about a key educational issue Los Alamos residents will soon be voting on. 

Los Alamos Public Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt was among those most enthused. 

“This was a pep rally,” Schmidt said. “The nice part about that is it reaffirms my belief that people are excited about education. These people are all ‘yes’ votes, yet they still showed up to say ‘we want to vote yes.’ ”

The hearing was about a ballot that will soon be coming to residents’ mailboxes if it hasn’t already. The ballot asks citizens to vote “yes” or “no” on the district’s request for $20 million in general obligation bonds to fund ongoing construction and renovation projects slated for the school district. 

In 2009, the Los Alamos School Board voted for $40 million in bonds to rebuild the school system over a 20-year period. The bond issue residents will be voting on this month is the second half of that $40 million. While the first $20 million in bonds set as a priority Los Alamos Middle School and Los Alamos High School, this $20 million is prioritized for Aspen Elementary, as well as other projects, Schmidt said.

“One thing we want the public to understand is we will be rebuilding Aspen Elementary with this bond money. But we are also doing a whole bunch of other things,” Schmidt said. “Once you leave here today, I want you to spread the word that it is more than Aspen that we will be working on.”

Among the key items Schmidt listed in his presentation were redesign plans for the high school music department, new windows at Mountain Elementary and new roofing for Chamisa and the Middle School. 

The residents attending the meeting were already committed to the idea and the hearing quickly transformed into a session on how they could get other residents to vote “yes.”

“One thing we want to do is get the word out that this vote will not come with a tax increase,” Schmidt said. “This is the second half of a $40 million bond cycle that maintains the current tax rate. We want to make sure residents understand that they will not be voting for a tax increase.” 

Audience members came up with other reasons as well. One person called the argument “since my kid is no longer in school it doesn’t concern me, phony.” 

“For older people like us, those kids as they graduate are going to be supporting us,” she said. Not just looking after us in nursing homes but they are going to be our doctors, lawyers ... we are going to need them.” 

The Los Alamos League of Women Voters organized the event-turned-rally and there were bright green, white and yellow lawn signs to pass out that said “Vote for the Bond.” Also on hand were bags of bright green bracelets and buttons people could wear on their shirts with the same slogan. 

The signs, buttons and bracelets were just one facet of a larger campaign to educate people on what the bond is about and why people should vote for it. Sunday there is a two-week telethon kickoff event planned on the local access channel. 

Supporters are also placing pamphlets on tables of local restaurants and Schmidt himself has been actively campaigning for the bond, speaking at various events throughout Los Alamos.

 According to Schmidt, the ballots should be arriving in residents’ mailboxes this week. The County Clerk’s Office has set a deadline of Jan. 29 to mail those back in.