McLeod saves the day for school district

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By Carol A. Clark

Superintendent Mary McLeod convinced the 29-member Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC) that met at the state capitol Wednesday to hold Los Alamos Public Schools harmless from a bill that would have cost the district nearly $3 million in state revenues.

“I just decided to put the stuff on the table that I knew they’d talk about...I talked about the elephant in the room — the $8 million...it’s categorical funding...it's given to us by DOE because we have a task to perform and that is to be the best school district we can be...to attract the best employees for the laboratory...,” McLeod said.

She received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the board of education as well as from the audience attending Thursday’s school board meeting in the library at Aspen Elementary School.

HB 241 involves a new funding formula for New Mexico school districts in which most would realize a funding increase but in the way the formula is calculated, LAPS would have lost nearly $3 million.

McLeod conducted in-depth research on the proposed funding formula and went before the committee prepared to present concrete facts as to why LAPS should be held harmless from the proposed funding formula.

The committee agreed with her logic and assured her the district would be held harmless in perpetuity.

Board member Alison Beckman was first to discover the potentially disastrous funding formula bill proposed by Rep.  Mimi Stewart more than a year ago and sounded the alert. She praised McLeod for her success before the LESC.

“Thank you so much for all your talents and the time you put in on this,” Beckman told McLeod.

Parent and school volunteer Alison Walters attended Wednesday’s LESC meeting and commended McLeod to the board.

“Since day one of her taking over the position of superintendent (July), Mary has been focused on this huge problem. She immediately recognized how seriously this bill might impact our district,” Walters said.

“She has worked tirelessly to understand the ramifications, collect data, analyze the new formula, with help from (board member) Ken Johnson, and put together a presentation to provide the senators with facts to persuade them to amend the bill. Essentially she pressed for a ‘hold harmless’ clause, into perpetuity and with a cost inflation factor to be included. But she went further than this and argued for our students.”

Walters told the board McLeod argued that while LAPS is a smaller district with a high number of gifted students, these students still need a sufficient education just as much as any other student in the state.

By cutting out the funding and accountability for these students, Walters said McLeod told the committee, these students were unlikely to become our state’s leaders and shakers in the future, let alone have the capabilities to cope in the 21st century. McLeod spoke passionately and with authority, Waters said.

“The mood of the LESC seemed to be mostly negative in the beginning but as Mary’s points were considered and addressed by each superintendent, it became obvious that the bill needed much more work, that not all bases were covered and that others around the state wanted more than just the minimum education for our children,” Walters said.

“By the end of the meeting, Rick Meira (LESC chair), stated that a hold harmless clause would be put into the bill… . For those of us who were there, it was a euphoric moment … Suffice to say that the board, the staff of LAPS, the students, the parents and the community owe Mary a big thank you in gratitude of her efforts to speak out so successfully for all our students – we are deeply indebted.”

While a major accomplishment, McLeod cautioned that the bill’s movement through the legislative process must be monitored carefully, adding that the district’s lobbyist, Scott Scanland, will stay on top of it and keep her informed.

The LESC is comprised of members of both the House and Senate.

The committee was created in 1965 as a permanent committee of the New Mexico Legislature, authorized by statute to conduct a continuing study of all education in New Mexico, the laws governing such education and the policies and costs of the New Mexico educational system..., recommend changes in laws relating to education..., and make a full report of its findings and recommendations.