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They went to Santa Fe’s capitol to do battle, but they ended up making friends instead.
A delegation of education officials, which included the Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Gene Schmidt, Assistant Superintendent Paula Dean, the district’s Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe and School Board Member Judy Bjarke-McKenzie, took a trip to Santa Fe’s Round House in order to try and kill a proposed amendment to the Public School Finance Act that would, potentially cut the Los Alamos Public School District off from a million dollars or more of annual funding meant for certain special programs and personnel.
While the amendment seeks to introduce “performance-based school budgets,” “clarify classification of special education students and ancillary staff and to modify and update the at-risk factor in the funding formula,” Los Alamos school officials are afraid the changes may mean an abrupt cutoff to this crucial funding, long before the district can find alternative sources to make up for the loss.
After much talking with legislators and committee members last Thursday however, school district officials came away with a deeper understanding of the bill, and decided the best strategy they could do is ally themselves with legislators of similar towns to see if they can get the gradual phase out of the funding extended for as long as possible, so the district could find funding for the programs and personnel it currently supports.
“I think we learned a lot more about the bill that we were concerned about, and that there’s other ways to work it rather than fight it that would be more beneficial to all of us,” Bjarke-McKenzie said. “I think we’re interested in building new friends and allies.”
During the many meetings the group had throughout the day with various legislators and committee staff members from the Legislative Finance Committee, Schmidt learned a couple of things that will help them modify their approach.
“I think what we learned from our meeting Matt Pahl (LFC member) and Charles Sallee (deputy director of the Legislative Finance Committee) is that there’s an opportunity,” Schmidt said. “The opportunity is we need to go out and find our school district friends who would share that work with us. We would potentially support (HB 158) if they could help us persuade their representative or senator the importance of extending Los Alamos for a longer period of time. Not just two or three years, but perhaps five or more to give us time to meet the needs of the state.”
Currently, the bill keeps Los Alamos’ funding at a million for this year. But further out, the percentage goes from 100 percent to 75 percent, to 50 percent, and then zero percent by 2016.
Wolfe echoed Schmidt’s statement saying by getting a longer funding extension cutoff, everyone would benefit.
“That would give us the opportunity to plan accordingly and to plan for the changes that will be forthcoming, and still benefit the state and the other districts and kids that need it.” Wolfe said, adding that the big thing they learned is that there is no way they are going to be able to kill it.
“I think it’s going to be difficult for us to go against it, because it’s going to be overwhelmingly popular and favorable to other districts.”
Schmidt said one potential ally might be the Carlsbad School District.
“We heard Sen. (John) Sapien say ‘we don’t want this to be about winners or losers, but it looks like now there are 87 winners and two potential losers,’” Schmidt said. “So it behooves us to find our friends among the winners who would be sympathetic and say ‘let’s help Los Alamos and Carlsbad maintain their current level of funding.’”
During their trip to the capitol building, Schmidt and the others made sure to talk to Stephanie Garcia Richard, Los Alamos’ state representative.
“I’m really trying to talk with folks about how much of an impact this is going to have on our district in particular,” Garcia Richard said. “We are basically being penalized through this bill for having experienced teachers and because we don’t have a large at-risk population, we are going to suffer.”