Our Viewpoint: The importance of perception simply cannot be denied

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By The Staff

In any introductory philosophy or psychology class, one of the first lessons that’s taught is the importance of perception.
Essentially, the lesson is this: what actually happened is not nearly as important as what people believe happened.
It is in this lesson that Los Alamos Public Schools and Los Alamos County did not put their best foot forward during the recent natural gas shortage.
With an estimated 32,000 people in the state without a source of heat Thursday night, many of them living within a few miles of Los Alamos County, and new Governor Susana Martinez going on television and asking everyone to tighten their belts, the schools and the county could easily be seen as acting coldly and callously to the plight of those affected by this shortage.
Yes, there ultimately were reasons for deciding to keep the public schools open or the Larry R. Walkup Center going without missing a beat. The schools, according to Superintendent Gene Schmidt, were acting as a safe harbor for out-of-district students who otherwise might have been without power at their homes. The county certainly reasoned that it actually taxes gas lines more to reheat a great amount of water than to simply maintain the temperature.
Those are completely valid reasons. Those are also poor choices during a time of crisis.
It is hardly lab-classified information that the rest of northern New Mexico, and likely much of the rest of the state, sees Los Alamos as snobbish. The fact that Los Alamos County was largely unaffected by the gas shortage alone probably didn’t sit well with many other less fortunate  communities in the area.
Here’s where the perception problem comes in: two major entities in the richest county in the state appear to have gone about their business as usual, while everyone else across the state was struggling.
It appeared that Schmidt tried to justify the decision to keep the schools open, but only after he started getting complaints from citizens. LAPS posted its reasoning on its website later in the day Friday, but by then, it already had lost the perception battle.
One might wonder if going against Martinez’s call to action to close down Friday to conserve gas could come back to haunt Los Alamos, particularly the schools.
Martinez is looking to chop expenses from the state’s budget and while she’s said she doesn’t want to touch the school budget, with a shortfall as much at $400 million and the education budget being nearly half of the state’s total expenditures, it’s hardly out of the question that education could take a hit.
If that occurs, what schools, then, might suffer? Would it be the many school districts in the state which complied with her request during a time of crisis, or the very few school districts in the state that didn’t? The county, hardly strapped for cash, could be vulnerable as well.
That scenario might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s hardly out of the question.
It could well depend on the perception of the governor and the state legislature.


Perception is all

I couldn't agree more with the premise of this article. Eleven years ago, we were comforted by an outpouring of support from northern New Mexico communities, many of which were badly hit by the gas shortage. I do understand that there seemed to be valid reasons to keep school open but at an intangible cost that could end up being far higher than the financial one. If we in LA had sent school busses to bring kids up here to shelter in our school, I would have been far more impressed. If we had used email and social networking to gather space heaters, blankets, down clothing, wood, and the like, to bring down to our valley neighbors, that also would have been wonderful. Social media and emails managed, in one day, to come to the aid of the Espanola Animal Shelter; are students and families less important. WE not only lost the perception battle, but we also lost a wonderful opportunity to return some aid and comfort to those who so freely gave to us in our hours of need. Shame on us!!!

I tried to understand

I tried to understand Schmidt's decision, as well. But if you talk to the parents of the students from Espanola and the affected areas of the gas outage- they will tell you that it was an extreme inconvenience to have to bring the kids up to Los Alamos for school when most of them were in crisis mode and wanted to keep the families together.

My first reaction to hearing that LAPS was staying open was that,indeed, Schmidt was thumbing his nose at the Governor. Not a wise plan, in my opinion. We don't need to become a bigger target on this State's blip screen!

Poor judgment indeed!