Board decides best way to refund state

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Education > Concerns mount there may be other funding errors

By Tris DeRoma

Pay it all off at once, or do it one payment at a time. That was the choice given to the Los Alamos Board of Education this week in reference to a miscalculation made by New Mexico’s Public Education Department.

Earlier this year, the PED inadvertently paid LAPS $218,000 more than it should have for its at-risk student program. At first, the PED said districts that it overpaid could keep the money, but after some lengthy consultations with its legal experts, the district is going to have to pay the money back.

“I’m looking for direction as to how we do that,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt said to the board. “One possibility that Dr. Honnell brought up was to pay it all back at once, and we could do that.”

Schmidt said the other option would be to pay it out in $18,000-a-month payments over the next year.

“It’s really about the value of the money,” Schmidt said. “What is that $200,000 worth, subtracting $18,000 a month over the next 11 months? If that represents a cost savings of under $80, we might as well just pay it off....the board has to decide what the value of the money is.”

After much discussion, the board decided to pay it off in monthly installments, just because they weren’t sure if that was the only funding mistake PED has made. They also didn’t want to set a precedent.

According to LAPS’ Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe, the PED did not care how the district did it, which played a big factor in the board’s decision. Board Chair Jim Hall asked Wolfe if it would cost the district anything either way, and Wolfe responded that it wouldn’t.

Los Alamos Federation of School Employees President Ellen Mills wondered what other financial mistakes PED made that LAPS may have to account for.

“I wonder what other mistakes might come across the table in the next 12 months,” she told the board. “Holding back a little bit might be a good strategy.” 

She also said if the board decided to pay it all back at once, the PED may make that a requirement. “Down the road, there may not be other options because they may feel that ‘oh well, everybody can just pay it back all at once’ and that may not be true,” she said.