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Schmidt: Enrollment plays a critical role in funding for LA Public Schools

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One of the most critical factors in funding Los Alamos Public Schools is student enrollment.
To generate funding for schools, the state averages the enrollment of the 80th and 120th day of school.
The district’s enrollment is multiplied by a per student dollar value derived from a complex formula, called the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG). For the School Year SY2013-14, the state SEG provided roughly $25 million of the district’s educational budget of approximately $35 million.
Student enrollment is important to our district because it impacts staffing and program. In recent years, the enrollment of our district has stabilized at roughly 3,500 students.
Within these numbers, however, there are interesting statistics. For example, the number of in-district students has been dropping about 100 students per year, which has been partially offset by a comparable enrollment increase from out-of-district students.
Another interesting data point is the grade level sizes of classes in the district. Secondary grade level enrollment is larger than it is in the elementary grade level.
For example, this year’s sixth grade class student enrollment of 309 is the largest in the district. Class size below the sixth falls into the 260s and 240s. Elementary schools that once had three class sections per grade level now have two.
As Los Alamos looks to the future, the school board and school administration will need to consider the very real possibility that student enrollment within school system will decline. A smaller student enrollment means less funding from the state.
Less funding from the state impacts our district’s ability to maintain current levels of staffing and continue to offer the variety of program offerings currently available to students. As such, we need to continue the conversation about what is a preferred enrollment.
One of the factors to consider about out-of-district enrollment is the concept of “marginal cost.”
My view is that once schools are built and the curriculum staffed the marginal cost of adding some out-of-district students on the margin can be lower than the marginal revenue we get to support those students.
Done at the right level, out-of-district students provide a financial benefit to our in-district students, and they help us sustain the variety of offerings we have developed over time.
Los Alamos places great value on education. As such, I welcome your thoughts and invite your voice to this conversation. Educating our children is a mission critical to the existence of our community. Los Alamos has a long and proud tradition of educational excellence.
To help generate this conversation, I intend to write a series of columns over the next several weeks. This first essay shares my concern for the real possibility that student enrollment patterns have begun to change in a way that could impact future state funding, staffing and program offerings.
Essay two will discuss what an educational program might look like if Los Alamos only offered a very basic program as compared to the wide variety of current programs.
Essay three will discuss a concern for the number of teachers who are eligible to retire in the next five years and the detrimental impact that could have to our program. Essay four will offer suggestions and insights as to how the district might maintain and grow our educational partnership with Los Alamos County, UNM-LA, and other agencies, public and private.
As each essay is written, I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

Gene Schmidt

Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent