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It’s common knowledge that Los Alamos County is considered the wealthiest county in the state. Because of that, it’s widely assumed Los Alamos Public Schools is amply funded as well.
But that’s not the case, according to local school officials who explained during a recent interview why the district is struggling and why it is critical that the community approve the upcoming referendum election.
“It’s a misconception that our schools are wealthy — people come here from other communities where the schools received Gross Receipts Tax revenues and they think Los Alamos Public Schools do, too,” Assistant Superintendent Kate Thomas said. “New Mexico and Hawaii are the only states in the nation that prohibit school districts from sharing in GRT revenues.”
Other states allow their school districts to receive operational monies from their local governments in a continuous stream, she said. New Mexico instead uses a state equalization formula that provides each student the same unit value for its operational funds throughout the state.
This ensures funding equity among New Mexico’s 89 school districts, which Thomas said she agrees is important.
The difference is that districts in other states augment state funding through their local government’s GRT revenues.
“The only way we can gain access to our county’s GRT money is through a referendum election because state law prohibits the county from just giving us money,” Thomas said.
While LAPS is on the cutting edge of curriculum, Thomas said, everything is going high-tech and the district needs the referendum to pass to keep up with those changes.
LAPS referendum votes in this county have always been for continuous support and do not raise county taxes, Wolfe said.
“The recent 32 percent tax increase came from the passage of a bond election, which will provide new high school, middle school and elementary school structures,” he said. “Referendum money cannot be used for this purpose.”
Referendum money is expressly for supplies and fixed assets including computers, computer cartridges, software, classroom supplies, carpeting, desks, chairs, tables and similar items. It cannot be used to pay salaries, build offices or schools, LAPS Business Manager John Wolfe said.
“Referendum funding gives us the ability to be agile — if the referendum does not pass, there will be no money for technology purchases for six years and we will be teaching our children in 2016 with 2009 technology,” he said. “We’ve got to have this kind of funding and we can’t get it from the county legally without an election in which the community says they support it.”
Last October the school board passed a resolution for the mail out referendum election. Ballots go out Monday and are due back to the County Clerk by Feb. 2.
Editor’s note: The Monitor is committed to providing coverage of all sides of this issue. We invite letters to the editor from a variety of perspectives or encourage you to call us at 662-4185 to have your point of view represented.