Hall, Williams gain school board slots

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LAPS: New terms begin in March 2013

By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos residents Jim Hall and Matt Williams officially became the replacements for current Los Alamos Board of Education members Melanie McKinley and Board Vice President Dawn Venhaus.

The two longtime Los Alamos residents were the only candidates to come forward and register before the deadline to do so Tuesday.

According to the New Mexico School Board Association, Hall and Williams will begin their terms March 1, 2013.

For Williams, seeking a seat on the board was not a hard decision to make.

“I’ve had lots of people asking me and influencing me to run,” he said. “Feeling the obligation to run and wanting to run are two different things.”

One person who influenced him was current school board member McKinley, who will not seek another term. According to Williams, he thinks the reason McKinley urged him to run is because he’s “pretty level-headed and logical, and I’ve been putting in my time learning about the school district and its programs.”

Williams said there aren’t any particular issues he’s looking at specifically, just to look after his district, the home of Chamisa Elementary. Acknowledging the rumors that his district might be split up at some point, he said his only issue at this point is to keep his district intact.

“I know the parents want to keep the district just the way it is,” he said. “That’s the only thing right now I have a strong opinion about.”

Hall, no stranger to public service, said he wanted to run because he knows how important the Los Alamos Public School District is to the community and what it has to offer its young people. Hall has served on the board for two terms before, as well as on county council. Hall also served out the remaining House District 43 term last year after Jeannette Wallace died in April 2011.

“I think the school system is a major asset in our community,” Hall said. “It’s one of those institutions that needs to be supported; it’s critical to our community.”

Hall said at this time, the district should look to a candidate with his political experience to help guide it through some major hurdles that are on the horizon.

Mainly, those issues have to do with funding.

“We do have some issues that are going to require work on everybody’s part,” he said. “One is capital funding. As part of my campaign I’m going to really encourage people to support the bond election on Jan. 29. I think that really matters.” Hall said he’d also do what he can to support state funding for the LAPS, as well as funding from the Department of Energy.

“Even though I won’t have a direct impact, I will try and be as influential as possible,” Hall said.

When Williams showed up to register his candidacy, he was wearing the familiar button urging residents to vote for the second round of bond funds in January.

“I’m on the bonding committee and it has been a learning experience,” Williams said. “I’ve been learning about the various capital projects, because that’s what it’s based around.”

The district Hall is running in contains both Piñon Elementary and Aspen Elementary, but Hall said the board works best when it works together.

“In my experience, the board has looked at things district wide, and I think that’s been a wise policy. I think it’s very important that it gets passed, and I plan on hitting the telephones next month,” Williams said.

Another thing that both Williams and Hall would like to see is stronger representation for Los Alamos at the state level.

According to them, the legislature at times have put forth funding plans that would have pretty much cut public education funding for Los Alamos to the bone.

“I’ve heard that there may be changes in how the state is going to give funding to the school districts, and we need to have a strong presence at the state level to make sure we’re well represented,” Williams said.

Hall agreed, and added his take on it.

“There have been proposed changes to the school funding formula that would really hurt Los Alamos,” Hall said, adding that one way Los Alamos can make sure to stay off the state’s hit list is to make sure the board is careful with the funding it does receive.

“I think one of the fundamental responsibilities of the board is fiscal oversight,” Hall said. “It’s not that anyone thinks the board is irresponsible, it’s just that’s what the public expects the board to do, is exercise appropriate fiscal oversight.

Williams has been living in Los Alamos for 15 years and he has a doctorate in mathematics from UC Davis. He works as a staff member at the lab. He also works as a volunteer at Chamisa, teaching students math.

Hall has bachelor’s degrees in math and management and was also a lab employee. He ran the lab’s business information technology division for 12 years before becoming a consultant.

He also served in Gary Johnson’s cabinet for three and half years. In past years, he’s served two terms on the Los Alamos School Board and was elected twice to county council, before becoming a state representative.