County helps soften LAPS budget crunch

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Some question why Los Alamos County can’t give the schools money. It can’t because it’s against the law

By Jennifer Garcia

For the past several months, the Los Alamos Public Schools have tried to strike a balance between quality education and a shrinking budget.Public input in the form of surveys has been sought to help guide the district in making program cuts and on Thursday, the results from those surveys will be unveiled to the public.

The district also has found that the amount they will have to trim from the budget is less than what it originally anticipated, thanks to a helping hand from Los Alamos County.

Initially, the district was faced with cutting approximately $600,000 from its budget, however, school administrators asked county officials for help by reducing the amount of money they had been paying the county for certain services.

As a result, the county offered to pick up the cost of two warehouse employees that are shared by the county and the schools. The county will also fund the cost of the LAHS school resource officer and they will reduce by $44,000 a month, the fees charged for the use of the Larry R. Walkup  Aquatic Center.

“We certainly do appreciate the county’s willingness to reduce our budget by not billing us for things we previously paid for,” LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt said. “That had a dramatic impact on our budget and our budget conversation.”

He said they still are not sure of the exact amount that will have to be trimmed from the budget, but they have been working with the belief system that it would be $600,000.

“What we’re prepared to do Thursday is, we will bring something in the neighborhood of $400,000 (to be cut from the budget),” Schmidt said.

It seems that some Los Alamos residents have wondered why the county has not stepped up and given money to LAPS to help cushion the blow of reducing its budget.

A letter dropped off at the Los Alamos Monitor was addressed to the Los Alamos County Councilors and it questioned the county’s $5 million contribution to the North Central Regional Transit District.

“With new GRT receipts made available to Los Alamos County through the new LANL management award, and under the leadership of Clr. Jim West, the newly established North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD) was selected as a vehicle to translate the goal of ‘regional integration’ into reality. Since that initiative, the County of Los Alamos has transferred approximately $5 million from its general fund to the NCRTD,” the letter read. “It is exactly this kind of investment that we are requesting be made in our public school system …. Rather than regional transit, education can be the vehicle to tie our communities together as we open the doors to more inter-district transfers from families in neighboring communities. Bringing our children together to learn about the world, and each other, in LAPS classrooms is an investment that is sure to bring far bigger dividends than the course we have pursued in recent years.”

The letter was signed by “Concerned Parents, Students, and Los Alamos County Taxpayers.”

When asked about the letter, Schmidt said he was unaware that anyone had written it and submitted it to the Los Alamos Monitor.

“We’re not thinking about asking for those funds,” Schmidt said.

LAPS Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe said that even if the county wanted to donate money to the district it could not, because it’s against the law.

“There are anti-donation rules that apply to any public entities like the county and us,” Wolfe said. “It (giving the schools money) violates the law.”

He also said that the county has worked within the boundaries of the law, in helping the district by not charging them for previously billed services.

Los Alamos County Council Chair Sharon Stover said that in 2008, the council and schools adopted a resolution that said the council would actively evaluate increasing the schools’ financial support.

“They came to us and explained their budget is being cut by 3.3 percent,” Stover said. “They came to us with ideas and we came up with ways to help. We value quality public education. It’s even part of our strategic goals. If we can help them reduce their expenses, we want to do that.”

Stover said she thinks it’s important to help the schools because quality education is valued and council wants to help them as much as possible.

The special school board meeting will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at Pajarito Cliffs Site 101, Camino Entrada Bldg 1.