School budget approval stalls

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McKinley quizzes staff on line items

By Jennifer Garcia

Going into Thursday night’s Los Alamos Board of Education meeting it appeared as though passage of the district’s $33.1 million budget was all but a done deal. However, some last minute questions stalled the board vote leaving the budget item tabled.


School Board President Melanie McKinley took issue with several line items in the budget and asked Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe to explain the items. Wolfe attempted to justify the items, but McKinley was not satisfied with his answers. As a result, Wolfe and McKinley were scheduled to meet today to go over the budget, line by line, in an effort to clarify any issues that she has. The budget is slated for approval at the 1:30 p.m. school board meeting Saturday, where Thelma Hahn’s replacement will also be chosen.

“Until I get it, I don’t feel comfortable,” McKinley said of approving the proposed budget.

One of the issues McKinley raised pertained to the number of instructional assistants and teachers listed on the new budget. On paper, it appeared that there had been a reduction in the number of teaching positions for the 2011-2012 school year. LAPS Comptroller Alex Salazar explained that was not the case.
He said once the students show up for school, then staffing assignments are made.

McKinley further questioned him about that method, saying, “So we approve a pretend budget?”

“No, that’s not it at all,” Salazar said.

McKinley pointed out that in the past, the board has been able to compare the budget from the previous year to the budget they are being asked to pass. But that’s not the case this year.

Other school board members also seemed to be confused about what was on the proposed budget.

“So we cut five teachers?” Board Member Judith Bjarke-McKenzie asked.

“Yes, on paper,” McKinley replied.

Wolfe explained that some of the listed items might not be clear because the state is continually “tweaking the budget module.”

LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt said that in composing the budget, the business department brought something that’s balanced, for board approval.

“We are trying to work with actuals,” Schmidt said.

McKinley pointed out that according to the budget, the superintendent’s office would have seven full-time employees in the upcoming year. However, that’s not actually the case.

After further discussion, Vice President Kevin Honnell asked McKinley if it was possible to resolve all her issues during the Thursday’s meeting. When she said no, Honnell suggested that the item be tabled until she could meet with Wolfe and go over the budget.

“If you think I’m plain insane, vote on the budget. I’ll vote an emphatic no,” McKinley said.

But after some discussion, the board agreed that more information was needed and decided to table the issue until Saturday’s meeting, when the board will meet at 2075 Trinity Dr.