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Coming to a dinner table or civic club near you: a conversation about taxes and education, courtesy of the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
UNM-LA hosted a kickoff event on campus Wednesday for community leaders as well as faculty in an effort to get the word out about UNM-LA’s proposed, 2 mil tax increase. The tax increase is due to go to voters on a ballot this fall and the election is scheduled for Sept. 17.
During the event, college officials emphasized to their respective audiences how important it is that the increase passes and why the additional funds are necessary.
“I hope they take away from this a clear understanding as to why we need the funding the tax levy will bring,” said Campus Executive Director Dr. Cedric Page following the presentation.
Steven Boerigter, the chairman of UNM-LA’s Advisory Board, was blunt in his assessment that he shared with community leaders who gathered for the presentation. “UNM-LA is in trouble,” he said. “State funding has gone down, costs are going up, we need as a community of Los Alamos, we believe we need to step up to the table.”
Mike Wismer, the co-chair of the Los Alamos Comitteee for Higher Education (LACHE) was just as frank and candid during his presentation, imploring the audience to ask the board any questions they need to.
“We believe that when you speak, as leaders of the community, there will be a cascading effect of support that will be generated through your understanding and knowledge of the issues when citizens come and ask you questions,” he said.
The presentation pointed out that state financial support of the campus has gone down 38 percent, and that some of the university’s programs are in jeopardy because they are currently being funded through grants that may end soon.
“The present level of funding we have here is not stable,” said Wismer, pointing to the decline in state support that occurred between 2008 and 2012, during a period of critical growth for the campus.
Though funding went down, Wismer said enrollment increased by 14 percent.
“There is not enough stable sources of income to meet our goals,” he said to the audience.
Wismer also went into great detail about, in spite of the lack of funding, the campus has managed to expand its professional degree programs into key industries of Los Alamos, including cyber security, health and emergency management.
“What the campus has been forced to do is add faculty into the grant funding,” he said. “While it may be a temporary band-aid to use grant funding to hire teachers and keep staff employed, it’s not stable. They do have a beginning and an end,” he said.
Wismer also pointed out that not only has UNM-LA excelled in providing a way for adults to advance in their careers, but it has also managed to help high school students who aren’t quite ready for college close the gap through the college’s offerings in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses, something other colleges might not offer.
“That may not be important to a school like MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Stanford, but it’s important here and it works,” he said.
Dean of Instruction Kate Massengale pointed out during a luncheon with faculty that if the mil levy does not go through, at least some of the professors who are supported by grants may lose their jobs, and many of the professional degree programs, including fire science, applied technology and engineering may be lost, as well as many advisor and tutoring positions.
“What will happen if the mill levy increase is not approved? ...We don’t quite know what would happen but we know a lot of these positions will be lost,” she said.
“However we would also make strategic decisions to lessen the fallout.”
That seemed to be the big message of the day; approval of the mil levy this fall would eliminate the disruption in services the school provides as well as keep their popular academic and professional development degree programs running.
County Council member and vice chair David Izraelevitz, took away a number of thoughts.
“Speaking for myself, and not the council, I believe UNM-LA’s goals are explicitly aligned with our strategic goals of promoting K through 20 education. I see it as a way to provide amenities to both current residents, as well as people we want to attract,” he said.
Izraelevitz also hoped that when he goes out to talk to his fellow residents about the levy increase, they will see what he sees in UNM-LA, that it’s a valuable asset to the community.
“It reinforces the fact that Los Alamos is a place that values education, and provides great resources for our children.”
LACHE was formed by a group of citizens in the past month. They describe themselves in on their website (ourcommunityourcollege.com) as a “a group of concerned citizens who are volunteering their time and effort to enhance higher education and lifelong learning in Los Alamos. ... We are committed to the notion that the community must support UNM-LA through a mil levy increase to provide desperately needed funds for the operation of UNM-LA.”
Members of LACHE include Wismer, co-chair Linda Daly, Stephen Boertgter, Micheline Devaurs, Michelle Hall, Jack Hanlon, Lori Heimdahl-Gibson, John Hofmann, Troy Highes, Linda Hull and Michael Wheeler.