LAPS mulls closing of Chamisa

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Preliminary talks have begun on how best to serve students and save money

By Jennifer Garcia

Los Alamos Public Schools is looking for a way to tighten its belt without reducing the quality of education or reducing teaching positions, but as the school board has found, that this is no easy task.
During Thursday night’s school board meeting at Chamisa Elementary, board members began a preliminary discussion about the possibility of restructuring White Rock schools. Parents patiently waited to voice their opinions about the possibility of closing Chamisa Elementary and finally got their chance during the work session, scheduled after the regular school board meeting.
LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt said that as the state continues to cut funding, the district is looking at providing the most efficient and high-quality education it can. He said one option that the district was considering entailed closing Chamisa and moving the district offices to that location. Chamisa students, in turn, would move to Piñon Elementary.
“We have 40 students fewer at Chamisa. We’re down by 26,” Schmidt said. “If we didn’t have out-of-district students, it would be more dramatic.”
 In recent years, Chamisa Elementary has seen a decline in student enrollment. In 2005-2006, K-6 enrollment was at 259; in 2006-2007, there was 264, however in 2007-08 and 2008-09, enrollment fell to 241. In 2009-10, enrollment increased by one, putting Chamisa’s enrollment at 242. So far, 2010-2011 has had the lowest enrollment, with 225 students.
Piñon Elementary, on the other hand, has had a larger student body, though they have also seen a decrease in the number of students enrolled. There were 379 students enrolled in 2005-2006; 378 enrolled in 2006-2007; 375 in 2008-2009; 372 in 2009-2010 and 336 in 2010-2011.
The board is considering consolidating staffs at Chamisa and Piñon elementaries, to have what Schmidt described as
consistency in the program model. However, he said that costs such as bussing and moving playground equipment must also be taken into consideration.
Some of the suggested benefits of restructuring the schools include:
• Building shared instructional goals
• Creating more opportunities for grade level planning
• Allowing school staff to focus on younger/older students
• Creating more balance classroom groupings
• Creating more consistency in instruction
The board realizes however, that there are also obstacles that will come with such realignment. They include:
• Splitting families with children in two schools
• Reducing interaction between younger and older students
• Possibly impacting parent involvement in schools
Board President Melanie McKinley said realignment could include one kindergarten class; three classes for grades first through second; three classes for grades 3rd and 4th, two 5th grade classes and two 6th grade classes.
“It’s been hard on Chamisa. They lost three teaching positions,” she said.
She also pointed out that redistricting could mean multi-grade classes and said that’s not the best way to educate kids.
During the public comment period, Matt Williams, the parent of a Chamisa Elementary student, wanted to know if redistricting would be a lasting result. He questioned whether there would be one parent-teacher organization and said he was concerned about volunteer time.
“If I have to do two science fairs, etc., you’re going to lose my volunteer hours,” Williams said.
Jill Sherrill told board members that she didn’t see how restructuring the schools would save any money.
“I have one child in kindergarten and one in 6th grade,” Sherrill said. “I think it’s great that the sisters can walk to and from school together.”
She also said she believed restructuring would result in a drop in services such as speech and physical therapy because they would have to be duplicated.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Schmidt thanked the parents who attended the discussion and said that the board is struggling to look at all the systems in White Rock. He also said that the board is exploring every cost savings that will save teaching positions.
“It’s important that we have these conversations,” Schmidt said. “This is not a done deal.”