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There’s a new sheriff in town at Santa Fe’s capitol and the new administration has Los Alamos Public School officials worried about what that means for education.
On Tuesday morning, LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt, along with School Board President Melanie McKinley and Vice President Joan Ahlers hosted a brunch attended by Sen. Richard C. Martinez, D-N.M. and Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-N.M. Los Alamos County Council Chair Mike Wismer and Los Alamos National Bank President Bill Enloe also were in attendance, in addition to representatives from Los Alamos National Laboratory. The brunch gave “the community and the legislature an opportunity to work together to discover how to continue our successes and meet our students’ needs,” Schmidt said.
Aspen Elementary School Principal Kathryn Vandenkieboom welcomed the legislators and guests in the gymnasium, followed by a musical program performed by the Aspen Tiger Choir.
Wismer began the legislative briefing by saying that Los Alamos places a high value on education.
“They’re not empty words we use for political campaigns,” he said. “We want students to enter into life with the right life skills.”
Some of the requests LAPS officials asked Martinez and Wallace to consider during the upcoming legislative section include
• Eliminating unfunded mandates, including the costs of publishing report cards; dual credit textbooks, state testing requirements and distance learning;
• Rewriting House Bill 33 laws to allow the use of referendum funds to cover technology and maintenance salaries;
• Consider the partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory; and
• Consider the importance of school construction.
Wismer reminded the legislators that the LANL Foundation contributes a “lot of money to Northern New Mexico for education,” but also said that they were not there to “put our hands in your fiscal pockets.” Instead, he said the goal was to look for ways to create more money for the classrooms.
“Lets take what we have and do better,” he said. “We’d like to take a look at some of the unfunded mandates and see if they’re to the benefit of the children.”
During his comments, Enloe tied education to New Mexico’s future. He explained how the lab’s health is tied to the LAPS system.
“We have to and will continue to work closely with the state legislature,” Enloe said. “This community wants to work with the legislature.”
“Great schools are important in the recruitment and retention of lab employees,” Schmidt said. “We want schools to provide a well-rounded education.”
During her talk, McKinley challenged state legislators to eliminate or reduce the unfunded mandates that take time from teachers, and restore joy to the classroom. She pointed out that art and music are important to students.
Enloe asked Martinez and Wallace what sort of impact the new governor will have on education.
Wallace said that there is a $15 million deficit that must be dealt with, so state officials are looking to make cuts in the Public Education Department, to help balance the budget.
“I can’t figure out what they do,
except bureaucracy,” Wallace said of the PED. “That’s where one of the cuts will be.”
She said the state budget will be released on Friday and warned that there will be changes along the way.
“We are all working together to preserve the education that goes into our schools,” Wallace said.
Martinez said he’s optimistic that Gov. Susana Martinez will work well with education. He also pointed out that he, as well as Wallace, is in a difficult situation because he represents District 5, which includes Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties, while Wallace represents Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties.
“It puts me in a predicament,” Martinez said, “what hurts Los Alamos helps Española.”
Martinez said this legislative session will be interesting because the state has a new governor and 14 new legislators.
“It’ll be difficult because the administration is Republican and the House and Senate are Democrat,” he said. “We’ll work not as politicians, but as policy makers.”
Wallace said that partisan is something she’s worried about.
“The House has changed dramatically. We may have a problem in our own Republican caucus,” she said. “I think everyone is delighted that there’s a change. I think we’re all positive.”