LAPS looks to the future

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By Jennifer Garcia

2010 is winding down quickly, but Los Alamos Public Schools administration already is thinking about 2011.
LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt and Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe are thinking about the impact of the state budget on the district’s long-range financial plan. With a new governor coming into office in January, there are some concerns about how education will be impacted and how much, if any, it will be cut.
“I don’t understand education cuts,” Schmidt said. “Sixty-one percent of education money goes into the classroom currently, but what about the other 39 percent?”
Schmidt said he and members of his administration have been meeting for the past three months in an effort to put together a long-range financial plan.  On Jan. 4, LAPS administration will meet with state officials for a breakfast at Aspen Elementary, during which they will discuss education and the possible effects that school districts around the state will feel, should education be cut.
“We’re putting together a gathering to reaffirm that education is important,” Schmidt said.
Wolfe said that one of the major problems that LAPS faces is unfunded mandates.
“We have to do them, but there’s no funding from the state,” he said.
Wolfe explained that unfunded mandates include items such as testing for grades three, eight and 11, which costs the district $100,000-$200,000 a year and comes out of the operational cost. Measures of Academic Progress (MAPS) testing, also is mandated and offered three times a year for all grades up to tenth, at a cost of $70,000 per year.
One request that LAPS will present during the upcoming legislative session focuses on the school calendar.
“We want to go back to the old rules, where the school year was based on the number of hours,” Schmidt said. “The law wasn’t necessarily calendar friendly.”
He said the old method, which called for a total of 990 instructional hours, allowed administration to decide what the school calendar looks like. The new method, which calls for 1,080 instructional hours, is more rigid. The law, passed last year by the
legislature, is supposed to go into effect for fiscal year 2012, but Schmidt is hoping that won’t be the case.
Another big issue for the district focuses on changes in retirement. Schmidt said he is hoping that the recently suggested changes, to include extending the retirement age for teachers will not be approved. He said that teachers have recently been asked to contribute more to items like healthcare and retirement, but have not received raises to help offset those costs.
Governor-elect Susana Martinez recently named new publication education head, Hanna Skandera.  According to the Associated Press, Martinez has made it clear that under her administration, she will give merit pay to the best teachers, end social promotion and raise standards. She and Skandera also said that despite a tight budget, they’re hoping to send more education dollars to the classroom.
Martinez’s incoming administration already is reviewing state agencies for waste and inefficiency, including the administrative budget for education. “But we’re going to make sure we protect core services for the most vulnerable and that we hold the spending that is necessary in the classroom,” she said.
Schmidt said he is holding the Jan. 4 education forum to let legislators and Los Alamos residents know that “we are proud of our education system,” and encourages residents to contact state legislators and address concerns regarding education cuts.
“We all have a share in the focus of our community. Los Alamos is all about education,” he said.