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Compromise reached

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Scalpel, rather than saw was used on school budget

By Kirsten Laskey

“Cutting the budget is not easy; it is not fun but it is necessary work we have to do tonight,” Superintendent Gene Schmidt told a packed house in the Piñon Elementary School gymnasium Thursday night.

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“It’s hard work but it’s work we can do together,” he added.

Over the course of five hours, school board members along with parents, staff and teachers, made a decision on how to slash the budget by $1.8 million during the Los Alamos Public School board meeting.

The board approved the following, which will go into effect July 1 and run through July 30, 2011:

Eliminate 3.5 FTE (full time equivalency) in the central office administrative staff;

• Reduce a social worker by .4 FTE;

• Reduce a diagnostician by .1 FTE;

• Eliminate a hardware technician contract;

• Cut the library technician services .15 FTE;

• Eliminate 2.25 high school secretary positions;

• Eliminate certified professional leave;

• Eliminate 3 FTE site technicians;

• Eliminate two maintenance positions;

• Eliminate 1.5 FTE from the prevention specialist and specialists’ secretary;

• Cut teachers’ stipends by 60 percent;

• Combine classrooms in several of the elementary schools;

• Cut $7,500 the energy czar’s stipend; and

• Use $900,000 from lease funds.

These cuts and eliminations were compromises between the board’s need to reduce the budget the LAPS employees’ push to cut as little as possible from jobs.

As Schmidt told the Monitor this morning, a scalpel was used rather than a saw.

For instance, originally, contact positions or certified special education instructors were proposed to be on the chopping block along with all of the library technical support, one elementary school library position and half of the site technician positions.

Reducing instructional assistants by 15 percent was also proposed and the amount taken from lease funds increased. Originally, the board wanted to take out $750,000.

Those who attended the meeting campaigned heavily for libraries, instructional assistants, technical support and many other areas of the school district.

Alice Newman, a librarian at Barranca Elementary School, said if library technical services were removed, services such as training for library cataloging will be lost and books will be left in boxes because the staff will not have the time to catalogue them.

Deborah Elliott, a teacher at Chamisa Elementary School, continued the support for school libraries.

She commented the librarian at Chamisa teaches classes, does inventory work, orders materials, operates book fairs, as well as participates in other areas such as serving as a judge on spelling bees and Battle of the Books.

Maxine Schmidt, a librarian at Piñon Elementary, commented, “if we eliminate (library) service and staff our children will suffer the consequences.”

She added that the library collection would stagnate, children would have fewer books to check out and programs that work to excite literacy among young people would be gone.

A woman who worked in the district spoke on behalf of instructional assistants (IA).

“I don’t think (Los Alamos Middle School) could lose more IAs and function. The IAs, in a lot of ways, are the backbone of the school,” she said.  

Several attendees urged the board to consider other avenues to reduce the budget.

Kim Selvage, a parent of LAPS students, recommended the board slow down and go “after the pennies” rather than cut from major areas in the district.

She also proposed focusing on home-schooled students to get them enrolled in the school district as well as pursue grants from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Stephanie Krantz, a LAMS teacher, recommended that students be included in budget cut conversation.

She suggested teaching students to write and apply for grants.

The input went on for several hours and the list of cuts received many crossed off lines and revisions before the board approved the final version at 11 p.m.

Schmidt explained cuts in the budget are necessary as a result of economic downturn in the state, which lead to a reduction in school funding to LAPS, which totaled $780,000. Additionally, there is a reduction in stimulus funds to the school district, which is estimated to be

$2 million.

Plus, enrollment has declined in recent years. Schmidt said the enrollment this school year is similar to last year’s numbers. The Department of Energy does provide $8 million but that number has been impacted by inflation so it becomes less usable money in the district.

It is also difficult because 85 percent of the budget “is sitting with us tonight,” Schmidt said, pointing to the large crowd of school employees in the gymnasium.

Most of the budget goes toward personnel salaries.

Schmidt also mentioned a mid-year cut in state funding could be on the horizon.

Just because the cuts approved at last night’s meeting are necessary, they are not easy to make, Schmidt said this morning.

“We are very proud of our education system,” he said, noting the LAPS school district is a flagship district in the state and nation.

With obstacles mounting, the board urged the public at the meeting to work with them.

“We need to make sure we are making the best decisions for the children of our district,” Board Vice President Joan Ahlers said.

Board President Melanie McKinley added, “We are all in this together.”

This morning, Schmidt told the Monitor he felt a successful compromise was reached.

“My first thought is wasn’t it a wonderful visual of a community working together to solve problems and come up with solutions that will seemingly continue to honor the rich history of our educational system,” he said. “It was a good night for the town and you have to applaud the school board for trying to maintain the focus of the school district on the issues.”