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Confused about how our public schools are funded? You’re not alone! A convergence of three major events will affect Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) for many years to come. They are distinctly different, and need to be kept separate, not only in the practice of acquiring and spending funds, but also in the understanding of how these funds can be used.
LAPS receives funding from three areas. Money through the state is determined through a state funding formula to go toward transportation and instructional materials. Grants include Title II and IV funds, a New Mexico Public Education Department Arts Grant, Public Service Company of New Mexico and the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation grants. The district also receives $8 million from the Department of Energy (DOE).
These operational funds can only be used to support and deliver instructional programs, athletics and activities such as salaries, curricular materials, supplies, technology and transportation.
The second area for funding includes referendums and bonds, which can only be used for new buildings and maintenance.
The final area is funding form revenue generating sources, which are school property leased to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Trinity Site Development project, which can be used either for operations or facilities.
Operational revenue sources cannot be used for new buildings or facilities maintenance, and vice versa.
About 90 percent of operational funding comes from the state allocated through the funding formula. The legislature is proposing a new formula, weighted to give more money to districts with higher percentages of students who live in poverty, move frequently and are learning to speak English. Because LAPS’ identified poverty level is 2.5 percent, its percentage of English Language Learners is 2.7 percent and its mobility rate is 7.8 percent, the funding for Los Alamos could decrease by 9.7 percent (about $3 million) if this proposed formula is adopted without a hold-harmless clause. Without this clause, the district will be unable continue to offer art, music, P.E. and library instruction at all elementary schools, to have counselors and nurses in all schools, and to have a wide range of electives, honors and Advanced Placement courses in the middle and high school.
The $8 million received yearly from DOE can only be used to support instruction designed to provide a premier educational experience for all students, research based instructional programs that will move all students forward in their learning, master teachers who provide excellent instruction, and professional development that ensures the use of best teaching practices in students’ classrooms.
Under revenue generating sources, the Trinity Site Project (the joint agreement between LAPS and the County of Los Alamos) has the potential to raise millions of dollars during the 40-year lease agreement.
Under tax dollars, LAPS is holding a bond election in January. Facilities are old, cost more to maintain than is practical, are very expensive to warm in winter, and do not meet current ADA standards. Parts of three school sites that must be totally replaced include: B, C and D wings at LAHS, portable classrooms at LAMS, and most of the classrooms at Aspen Elementary School.
LAMS also needs additional space for a multi-purpose room and physical education.
If voters approve the $40 million bond (the maximum allowed by state statute), LAPS will also meet the requirements necessary to obtain at least a 25 percent contribution for building projects from the State of New Mexico (the state is only authorized to provide additional funding when a district is bonded close to capacity.
For more information, about the bond election, visit www.laschools.net.