Off and On: Support education – it is the key

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By Ralph Damiani

A recent study reported that about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma and about 1.2 million students drop out annually.

Locally, we had only 22 dropouts out of some 1,200 students last year.

Nevertheless, the numbers are disturbing.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founding chair of the group doing the study, told the Associated Press that “when more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem – it’s a catastrophe.”

We agree. We are falling further and further behind other nations in producing an educated, literate population.

Even when we graduate students, they are often at marginal levels and well below other nations.

Each year, the local Rotary Club here participates in a student exchange program. In talking to students who come here, a universal comment they make is how easy – and behind – our schools are.

It is a problem that needs more than lip service.

Locally, we are relatively fortunate to have a very good school system with a first-rate high school.

Also, we are lucky to have a school like the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos here to provide us with both basic education – from English as a second language classes to GED programs to master’s degrees – which provides us with positive educational options.

Both, however are under attack and in need of the community’s support.

UNM-LA is having to deal with a tightened budget caused by enrollment declines and Los Alamos Schools is under attack by state leaders who are jealous of the hard-earned success of the district and want to strip it of the ability to do its job.

UNM-LA says it will work on a tight operating budget as it tries to meet the continued demands of the community.

New Executive Director Cedric Page deserves our support to help this vital asset to grow.

But there is another – just as vital – issue facing us: the new superintendent search for Los Alamos Public Schools.

The board has just completed an nearly year-long search for a replacement for retiring Superintendent James Anderson.

But that search ended in frustration, as the board rejected all nominations.

While hesitant at first, it seems now that the board seems ready now to hire a consultant to help select a new superintendent.

I am never one to support unnecessary government spending, but this could be one time where the money would be well spent.

But only if the board considers a critical factor and that is pay. I feel that one of the reasons the candidate pool was small was that the pay – for Los Alamos – was just not enough.

Not only is this an expensive community, the job of superintendent here is very demanding and needs a high-caliber person.

For now, the board has turned to Assistant Superintendent Mary McLeod, who will serve as superintendent for the 2008-2009 school year.

The community is lucky to have someone with this level of expertise to take over while the board seeks to sort things out.

I urge the school board to take a very hard look at doing everything – including a consultant – to expand the pool of candidates and to look at the salary option.

As seen, schools nationally are struggling. While we have issues here, they do not rise to the levels of other communities and our goal should be to keep it that way.

It is up to us and we must all work together.

State continues to rake in oil, gas money

According to the Associated Press, the state Land Office says it has earned more than $133 million from oil and gas production on state trust lands during the third quarter.

State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons says that brings the total earnings for the first three quarters to more than $352 million.

Royalty earnings for January, February and March hit more than $123 million. That money is paid into the Land Grant Permanent Fund for distribution to public schools and other beneficiaries.

Oil and gas lease sales during the quarter generated more than $10 million. Those funds are deposited into the Land Maintenance Fund, which pays the Land Office’s operating expenses.

The Land Office attributes the revenues to higher prices for natural gas and oil during the winter months.

While fuel prices are killing most of us, it is allowing the state to continue to swim in resources.

E-mail Ralph at ralph@lamonitor.com.