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Credit card could come with benefits

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By Tris DeRoma

If a partnership between the Los Alamos Schools Credit Union and the Los Alamos Public Schools is successful, “charging it” could come with extra benefits.
At a recent school board meeting, LAPS’ Chief Finance Officer John Wolfe announced to the board that the credit union is looking to start a Visa credit card that its customers could also use to make donations to the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation. The foundation supports grants, programs and scholarships relevant to the school system.
Matt Schmidt, CEO of the credit union, was also at the meeting, seeking the board’s approval to use the “Hilltopper” logo on the card.
“We want to feature the school district as the primary benefactor of this card,” Schmidt said. “So therefore, I’m seeking your approval of the logo,” he said to the board.
Customers who use the credit card, which would have the famous yellow and green “Hilltopper” logo on it, would have a choice of donating 25 cents to the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation with each purchase they make.
At the meeting, Matt Schmidt made it clear that card users would have a clear choice of opting in or out of the donation program. If card users decided to donate, the foundation would in turn, use the donations to support various programs and projects within the school system. The credit union also pledges to try and match each 25-cent donation based on an annual review. It would be up to the credit union’s board to determine the donation match percentage.
“Our board is going to be reviewing that annually and decide what is an appropriate percentage,” Schmidt said. “Obviously, if it’s a huge success, we will expand our goals and give more, but we would like to have some control, at least in the beginning.”
Matt Schmidt told the board that the plan for a LASCU credit card for its members, which include about 700 past and present school district employees, has been in the works for some time. The donation concept, he said, was an idea that would further serve to highlight the union’s local ties to the community as well as its economy.
“We wanted something that was going to be hyperlocal, and something that was going to give back, not only to the school community, but we’re also looking into helping the small businesses in town,” Schmidt said to the board, adding that he’s looking into setting up a rewards program with town businesses.
So far, the credit union has Visa’s approval. Schmidt said the goal is to introduce the card to customers a month before school starts again next year.
Board Vice President Kevin Honnell had some questions, one of them being would the school district be exposed to a lawsuit from a third party, such as a credit union member or maybe a creditor, should a dispute arise between the third party and the credit union.
“If a credit union member or some outside financial entity should have a dispute with credit union, pursue some kind of litigation over a financial issue, is there any exposure to the school district being named as a business partner or a collaborator with the credit union and being drawn into a litigation matter that really isn’t our interest?” Honnell said.
Wolfe said yes, that is certainly a possibility, but the burden of proof would be with the plaintiff to prove the school system contributed directly to the dispute.
At the end of the discussion, the board voted unanimously 4-0 (Board President Judy Bjarke McKenzie was absent) to let the union use the Hilltopper logo on the card.
Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt approved of the agreement.
“This will be an exciting opportunity for those that use the credit union to show their school spirit,” Schmidt said.