Bond resolution passes at Tuesday's meeting

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By Gabriel Vasquez

A bond resolution to help repair and rebuild area schools was approved Tuesday night by the school board.

During its regularly scheduled meeting, the board voted 5-0 to approve a mail-out ballot to be sent out to Los Alamos County residents in January 2009 that asks taxpayers to help bear the weight of a $40 million infrastructure-rebuilding project dubbed the “20-Year Facilities Renewal Plan” that is designed to ensure the longevity of current LAPS schools.

“This is a one-time tax increase,” said Kevin Powers of RBC Capital Markets, a company contracted by LAPS to help draft the resolution. “Then we can support this program on in to the future, and with some good fortune and growth the tax base will exceed the projected growth and we will be able to increase the amount of money that can be generated for bond sales in the future.”

The general obligation bond that currently supports schools in Los Alamos is set at a rate of $3.262 per $1,000 assessed evaluation. Neighboring Pojoaque has its bond set at $9.743, Santa Fe at $3.437, Española at $5.159, and Bernalillo at $9.475.

The proposed bond resolution in Los Alamos would raise the general obligation bond by $5.50, bringing it to $8.686, according to the report released by RBC.

In addition, residents are paying $3.246 per thousand to fund building maintenance and repair. Approval of the bond would bring the total property tax rate here to $11.932 per thousand.

This means that, potentially, the tax rate impact for homeowners on the proposed bond whose homes are valued at $100,000 would be $154.67 extra per year, those with $200,000 homes would be paying an additional $309.34 annually, homeowners with homes valued at $300,000 would pay $464, and $400,000 homeowners would pay around $618 extra per year.

The mail-out ballot, as approved, will read:

“Shall Los Alamos Public Schools issue $40,000,000 of general obligation bonds to erect, remodel, make additions to and furnish school buildings, improve school grounds, and to provide matching funds for capital outlay projects funded pursuant to the Public School Capital Outlay Act?”

Residents then would have a choice to vote for, or against the measure and return the ballot within three weeks.

Despite the possible tax increase, the work needed to be done at area schools is critical, said board president Steve Girrens at a Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce meeting last week.

“It’s time now that we really have to do something a lot more significant to keep our schools’ infrastructures viable to support our education,” Girrens said. “The schools are the crown jewel of our future.”

In some places, like Aspen Elementary, site inspectors were able to put their finger through some of the walls, Girrens added. At Los Alamos High School, the base under the stairway and throughout other parts of the building is extremely worn out, peeling, and in danger of permanently going into disrepair.

He said if area residents were to take a tour of the school facilities themselves, they would see the imminent work that needs to be done.

In other business, the board unanimously approved a three-year, $2,809,800 technology plan to upgrade infrastructure, purchase new hardware and software, and maintain current equipment.

Dean Obermeyer, LAPS technology coordinator, said the goal of the plan was to get Los Alamos schools up to speed with the other school districts in the state, and provide every student with the opportunity to have access to the educational resources that modern education demands.

"We have a plan that is attainable, reasonable, and something that can be used to guide what we do with the technology within our schools," Obermeyer said.

LAPS board member Alison Beckman expressed concern about over-spending on the technology plan, citing there may be cheaper alternatives like using open-source software and inexpensive laptops that could save the program money.

Currently, the schools primarily use the Macintosh platform for the majority of their computer needs, Obermeyer said. Beckman suggested that switching to the PC platform may be a cheaper solution, but Obermeyer countered that in the long run the costs would be about the same.

A special presentation was also held for science fair winners Caroline Wurden, and Alex Kendrick, students at LAHS.

Wurden gave board members a brief overview of her project, which dealt with recreating ball lightning in her garage. She won first place and best of show in the physics division at regional and state competitions, and first in physics at the international level.

She received $8,000 in cash, a new computer, and an asteroid named for her from MIT.

Kendrick received first place in engineering regionals, and second in state for his efforts in creating an “underground radio.” His radio, which operates in Morse code, is designed to improve the rescue time of lost cavers or trapped miners, and pinpoint their specific location.

He plans to continue his project next year, and digitize his radio to send electronic messages.