School district to propose $36.8 million budget

-A A +A
By Tris DeRoma

In spite of unfunded state mandates, expenses carried over from last year’s budget (several staff and teacher additions) and a loss of about $800,000 in “training and experience” state funding for teachers, the Los Alamos Public School District is expected to turn in a balanced, 2013-14 budget by May 23 to the Los Alamos Board of Education.

As of late last week, the proposed budget stands at $36.8 million.

Expenses include a $267,814.97 state-mandated, 1 percent raise in pay for teachers and staff, a $106,193 increase in medical benefits, $118,165 in utility cost increases and $41,000 in unemployment premium increases. 

Besides the $25.1 million in state funding, the district is expecting its annual $8 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy plus $2 million from miscellaneous sources such as grants, and funds from the district’s real estate lease fund. 

“This year, the shortfall will be balanced through the use of our cash reserves,” Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt said. 

During the budget process, the Budget Committee as well as the school board recommended some cuts the district could make. One cut they wanted to see was the addition of a public information officer. Schmidt felt they needed one to better publicize the districts’ accomplishments on a national level. The addition of a public information officer is a chief aspect of the district’s “Strategic Plan,” an ongoing project to improve the district’s academic national ranking. The proposed salary for the position was $100,000, including benefits.

“The board told us to come back with four things,” Schmidt said. “Do no harm to children, no layoffs, another scrubbing of the strategic plan, and bring us something that doesn’t include a public information officer, or at least a $100,000 public information officer.” 

Schmidt said they plan instead to use the funding they set aside for the position instead to add teachers. That’s in addition to the 1 percent raise the state has already mandated.

“The board felt that given the financial times, they’d rather put money into teachers,” he said.

Schmidt added they’ve already set aside the money for the salaries of two additional teachers. 

“That would meet the needs of a community that wants small class sizes and the needs of the teachers who feel they are more effective with small class sizes,” Schmidt said.

However, Schmidt also said he was probably going to try and negotiate for a small stipend for someone to do public information duties part time.

Board President Jim Hall said he felt bad about reducing the PIO position, but this budget was all about “hard tradeoffs.”

“... I feel badly about the PIO position but it’s our responsibility to make the tradeoffs we have to in order to make the best decisions for our schools, ” he said.

But Schmidt said he’s going to keep trying for the PIO position as well as other facets of the plan in future budgets.

“I don’t want to give up on the idea entirely because we don’t want to give up on the Strategic Plan that calls for national prominence,” Schmidt said.

Hall believes the budget will mostly be the way they want it when it comes before the board May 23. 

“What we said is that there will be no layoffs, period. Minimize harm to children, we have to have a balanced budget and we feel we have to honor the citizens of Los Alamos through the implementation of parts of the Strategic Plan,” Hall said. “From what I understand, they are working on that so I expect the budget to be approved on the 23rd.

“There may be a few minor changes that need to be made, but I expect that the major decisions have already been made.”