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LAPS pay raises may not happen

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Education > Proposed increases were to be retroactive

By Tris DeRoma

It now seems unlikely certain employees that work for the Los Alamos Public Schools will be getting that 1.5 percent pay raise after all, at least not this school year.
In February, the Los Alamos School Board approved a 1.5-percent increase for all school employees that weren’t teachers.
The raise was to be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.
The district would have spent $60,696 this year, relying on salary savings. Next year, the district planned to spend $121,000 in raises and would have paid for it through the money the district saved through upcoming retirements.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn made the announcement at a recent board meeting.
While the school board approved the raise, it was up to the New Mexico Public Education Department to approve the raises in accordance to state law.
However, according to Washburn, the idea was shot down by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office over the retroactive aspect of the increase.
“They consider it a gift of public funds, so we can’t do that,” Washburn said at the meeting.
A statement from the State Attorney General’s office to the administration further clarified the reasoning.
“Retroactive pay is not allowed because compensation must be determined prior to services being rendered and once the work is complete it cannot be paid for again at a higher than agreed upon rate,” read a statement from the state attorney general. “This would be a gift in violation of the anti-donation clause.”
The NMPED did allow a cost-of-living increase, but the administration decided to pass that up too, due to timing.
“By the time we got it done and approved by PED, it would be about a month before the end of school, and for most of our folks, it wouldn’t be meaningful at that point,” said Washburn to the board.
However there was some good news in the fact that the district’s salary study continues to move forward.
Washburn said the study, which is being performed by an outside contractor, should be completed by April 30. Though the school budget is due by May 1, Washburn indicated that they should be able factor in any salary changes for both classified employees and teachers recommended through the study, since the state allows school districts to submit changes up to June 30.
But if changes are implemented, district officials added that the wage gap would be filled gradually and not all at once.
Kevin Eadie, one of the classified employees who has led the charge on making the salary changes, said regardless of what happened, he’s glad that the current administration is trying to make things right.
“I think the district is doing its due diligence, they’re committed to making positive changes,” Eadie said.
However, he also added that if prior school boards and administrations made a reasonable effort to keep up with salary increases, they wouldn’t be in the predicament they are in today.
“For not updating that salary schedule for 20 years is a tremendous oversight. I believe other school districts are getting more money because it wasn’t an oversight with them. The salary schedule is a critical part of our budget that we submit to the state. To overlook that for 20 years is not a positive thing,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt informed the board that while the goal of the study would be to realign the pay of Los Alamos Public Schools employees with the rest of the school districts in the state, pay realignment will probably have to happen gradually, due to budget priorities and funding considerations.
“When we actually see this report, Mr. Washburn is going to say ‘we can probably do that this year, that might take two, that may take five to get to these different levels of salary differentiation,’” Schmidt said to the board.