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Today's Opinions

  • PED’s teacher evaluations stumble on transparency

    Late last year, we saw some light in the education wars with proposals to revamp the state’s teacher evaluation system. Various legislation would have altered the weight of testing in the evaluation or allowed teachers more sick days. At least two aimed for a complete rewrite.

    The Public Education Department in 2012 handed down the evaluation system by administrative order, and it’s been controversial ever since. Teachers and their unions have complained that it relies too heavily on standardized test scores and that it’s unfair, punitive and demoralizing.

    Teachers explain again and again that not all students are the product of a stable home life and that kids come to school with issues beyond what a teacher can fix during the school day. That’s why they preferred evaluations based on classroom observations.

    During the regular legislative session, several of the evaluation bills rocked along with bipartisan support. The “teachers are human too bill,” with two Republican sponsors, would have let teachers use all ten of their allowed sick days without penalty. After passing both houses nearly unanimously, it was felled by a veto; the Senate voted to override but not the House.

  • Prepare for major life expenses with tax- advantaged accounts

    BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Matters

    College tuition, a new pair of glasses and retirement may seem unrelated, but the tax law says otherwise. By knowing how and where to save your money, you could pay for each of these expenses with tax-advantaged – or in some cases income-tax-free – money.

    Individual Retirement Agreements (IRAs) and 401(k)s are perhaps the two most well-known examples of these types of accounts. But they’re not alone. With educational and medical expenses in mind, consider the following types of accounts and how you might be able to use one to help yourself or your family.

    Invest your college fund in a 529 plan. State-sponsored 549 plans come in two forms. Prepaid tuition plans let you lock in today’s rate for in-state public schools and 529 college savings plans allow you to invest your savings based on your goals and risk tolerance. Contributions aren’t a federal tax write-off, but if you invest in your state’s plan, there might be a state income tax write-off.

  • Do you want tax reform? Muzzle the governor and make it bipartisan

    Republicans are discouraged that instead of getting a gross receipts tax overhaul, we’re getting a $400,000 study. But realistically, their 430-page baby was way too much for a two-day special legislative session. The good news is that tax reform is on everybody’s radar, and I see the political will to get it done. What I don’t see, yet, is the necessary bipartisan cooperation.
    Sitting through the long hearing for the bill, I heard strengths as well as unfinished business.
    Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, deserves our thanks for taking on this monster. Harper told the House Labor and Economic Development Committee that he tried hard to be nonpartisan. “It’s not a far right solution or a far left solution,” he said. “We met in the middle of the road.”
    The bill would have removed most GRT exemptions, deductions and credits and applied the savings to reduce the rate from 7 percent to 6 percent. It also remedied a host of other problems with the tax, including its name, which is scary to outside companies thinking about moving here.
    “Names really mean something,” Harper said.
    The bill would also have taxed internet sales, healthcare providers and nonprofits and increased the motor vehicle sales tax and the healthcare premium tax.

  • Southwest Conservation Corps branches out in New Mexico

    On a fine April weekday we stopped outside Grants at El Malpais National Monument visitor center, one of our standard travel breaks. A group was lunching at the concrete tables under the ramada. Several wore bright jumpsuits. Their hardhats had a dark, rectangular insignia resembling, from a distance, the Caterpillar Inc. logo.
    Curious, I ambled over to visit.
    The logo was “SWCC” for Southwest Conservation Corps (sccorps.org), which turns out to have five offices around the region. The New Mexico locations are Acomita Lake, serving the Pueblo of Acoma, the Pueblo of Zuni and Gallup. The Colorado offices are the headquarters in Durango and in Salida.
    SWCC’s website lists 10 programs. In general the programs involve crews going to areas and doing all sorts of conservation work. The programs serve rural areas with one exception, the Barrio Corps in Albuquerque, a partnership with La Plazita Institute (laplazitainstitute.org).
    The Ancestral Lands program, based at the Pueblo of Acoma, has proven popular. Using the Acoma template, a Gallup office opened three years ago with a Zuni Pueblo office last year. A Hopi office is planned for this year.

  • Food waste is money down the drain

    BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Matters

  • Let’s settle the debate about the role of the sheriff in LA

    There has been a long-standing debate about the role of the sheriff in Los Alamos. The present sheriff, Marco Lucero, was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, stressing the importance of the sheriff’s role in Los Alamos.  
    County Councils, not including myself, have worked to minimize that role, drastically cutting his budget and ultimately calling an election last November to eliminate the office. After a contentious campaign, our citizens voted to keep an elected sheriff. It’s time to settle this debate.  I will present at the June 6 council meeting a resolution that clearly defines the roles of the sheriff and police department, and returns a reasonable but limited set of duties to the sheriff’s office. Council and the sheriff need to come to an agreement at that meeting, so that we can all move on to the many other challenges our county faces.

  • Los Alamos County’s fiscal predicament

    BY LISA BRENNER
    A Better Way for LA PAC

  • Finding common ground on immigrant resolution

    The original resolution turned out to be a bag of worms with few people happy and most believing the other side was getting what they wanted while their side lost out. I’m told emails ran 50-50 while I observed the voices at the Council meeting ran 75 percent conservative and 25 percent liberal.
    Shame on us!
    I can remember when this country was almost all moderates and common ground could be found between Democrats and Republicans. The word liberal referred to a college with a wide range of degree programs. Conservative referred to a person preserving nature and gay meant someone was happy.
    How far we’ve separated ourselves. To bad Obama didn’t live up to his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. “W” Bush had run on a platform of uniting a divided America. But he just divided us more. Listening to Obama I had a great feeling we could unite again. He certainly was a great orator, “There are no red states and blue states only the United States of America! There are no liberals and conservatives we are the United States of America!”