Union passes reduction in contracts, one day of unpaid leave

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By Kirsten Laskey

Money is tight for everyone, including Los Alamos Schools.

Ellen Mills, president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, warned the school board Tuesday night that even though the proposal to reduce teacher’s contracts to 185 days and to take one day of unpaid leave was approved, the union is displeased.

“You need to understand,” she said, “People are not happy.”

She added they are hoping that there is a way in the future to make cuts “so our staff is not going backwards.”

Mills said the union acted generously; no one wants anyone to lose their jobs.

President Joan Ahlers encouraged more people to look into this issue because the more people involved, the better things will be.

The board took some steps themselves to get pro-active by reviewing an overview for a LAPS Lobbying Task Force.

The problem, according to the overview, is that the $8 million the district receives from the Department of Energy has not been adjusted for inflation in years.

While this funding has helped make the district a premier one, the flat $8 million, along with inadequate state funding and funding complications from a potential new funding formula are problems for the district.

Therefore, the school board discussed starting up a task force to establish relationships with local, state and federal representatives, as well as with LANL management.

The purpose would be to gather updates, share information and potential revenue increases of the DOE funding.

The task force would include the board president, secretary, superintendent and business manager.

Board Vice President Ken Johnson recommended the task force look at the report from the financial stability task force to show the district is trying to do things on its own and are not just holding out its hands.

In an unrelated matter, the school year is concluding and school officials are working to make sure no student begins summer vacation worried about their academics.

Suzanne Lynne, summer school principal, provided a report to the board about the upcoming summer school session.

Lynne said it will have the biggest enrollment yet.

Two hundred ninety-six students in kindergarten through sixth-grade have been invited and 126 students have accepted the invitation. Additionally, 96 middle school students were invited and 29 accepted.

Even high school students are not getting left out. Superintendent Mary McLeod reported a credit recovery summer program will be offered for free at the high school.

Summer school for kindergarten through middle school students will begin June 15 and run through July 17. Classes are 8:30-11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday at Aspen Elementary School.

Lynne said personal attention for the students and small class sizes are being emphasized. Besides five instructional assistants, there are several volunteers.

For volunteers, Lynne said she first turns to her own children, then to her children’s friends and then to the National Honors Society and Key Club.

Classes will have a half-hour of reading and 30 minutes of math. The materials used to teach the classes have been recycled for years.

The core program uses Summer Success math and Summer Success reading.

Summer school, Lynne said, works to prevent regression and she said instructors do see growth in their students.

The program is funded through stimulus funds for special education.

The use of school facilities for other things besides classroom instruction was also a topic of conversation during board meeting.

After reviewing categories that determine rental rates, several nonprofit organizations were worried rental fees would increase.

However, McLeod rectified the situation by recommending working with organizations to determine that they do serve students. The organizations would provide documentation as proof to prevent any future uncertainty.

The issue arose when Brenda MacFarlane, district rental coordinator, questioned whether certain groups actually did fall into the number two category for renters.

To fall into this category, the nonprofit groups need to have activities that directly serve school-age children. There is no room fee for this type of renter, although in some facilities, a monitor is required when custodians are not on duty.

The board debated whether some organizations currently under the category two were actually category three renters. In this grouping, organizations are nonprofits that have activities that do not directly serve students.

Therefore, rental fees range from $5 per hour to $50 per hour. A paid monitor is required.

Board president Joan Ahlers said the board was not looking to change their regulations. The issue, she said, was how to enforce the current regulations.

It’s difficult, McLeod said, to determine if an event or activity is set up for kids or if it set up for groups of people and some kids.

“That’s where it gets really muddy,” she said.

Several representatives from Los Alamos Community Winds (LACW) Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra (LASO) made presentations to the board to prove they clearly should stay in category two.

Debra Wrobleski, the president of the Community Winds said, “We were very concerned when this happened.”

She said the Community Winds is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.  

Having an increase in rent, “this will take a very large chunk of our resources,” Wrobleski said.

She explained the winds ensemble has $6,500 for income and being in the category three would mean $1,000 less to work with.

The winds ensemble offers all its concerts for free.

Like the LACW, LASO is also a nonprofit. If the rental fees increase, Jane Gerheart, LASO president, said they would not be able to afford the fees.

She added, in the past, they were informed they were a category two renter.

Plus, LASO offers students experiences that can not be found in other organizations. The orchestra offers two concerts every year and a free Christmas concert.

Recently, the orchestra provided members for the high school’s musical, “Bye, Bye Birdie.”

Additionally, the orchestra offers scholarships to students and will award four this year.