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School district prepares for 6% raises

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By Tris DeRoma

This year, the state Legislature has tossed a big question mark into school budgets across the state, and Los Alamos’s school district is no exception.

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The Legislature made mandatory a 6% raise for all school employees, including teachers. School officials are now waiting to see how much the state has allocated to cover the raises.

At a recent budget subcommittee meeting, Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus they are still waiting for the New Mexico Public Education’s budget allocation. Regardless of how much funding the school gets, he said teachers and staff would get their raises.

“I’m confident enough that we’re going to figure out a way to make it work,” Steinhaus said.

Steinhaus also said his administration is working to create a budget, which is due to the state by May 20. There are 793 employees employed by the Los Alamos Public Schools.

The raises would go into effect next school year. Steinhaus said once they get the numbers from the PED, it’s a simple matter of taking this year’s salary figures and adding the 6%.

Some board members were worried about what might happen if there was not enough money in the budget to cover the raises. If that were the case, the district would have to cut costs in other areas.

“The increase that we’re getting might not be enough to cover the 6%,” School Board member Bill Hargraves said. “When have the final numbers from the public education department, then we will be able to look and see where we are not able to cover costs.”

Morrie Pongratz, a community representative on the committee, said the school district is probably going to have to cut from other areas of the budget.

“That funding formula is not going to give them enough to fund a 6% raise,” Pongratz said. “They’re going to do the 6% raise, but they’re going to cut in other places.”

Los Alamos School Board Chair Ellen Ben-Naim is hopeful that the state is going to provide enough funding to cover the cost of the raises.

“We’re also very optimistic about opportunities for growth and opportunities to meet the needs of our at-risk students,” Ben-Naim said.

Steinhaus said to the subcommittee that three bills the legislature passed Senate Bill 1, House Bill 2 and House Bill 5 defined for the schools what “at-risk” means.

 “It’s up to the school districts to decide what they’re going to do to address that risk.” Steinhaus said they are working on a plan now.

Steinhaus said at-risk is defined by three factors: Students that are on a free or reduced lunch, English language learners, students that move frequently and those that are physically or mentally disabled.

Steinhaus said they also applied for funding for a second pre-k program for a school located in Los Alamos. The school district secured state funding last year for a pre-k program at Piñon Elementary last year that has proven popular.
Steinhaus also informed the board that they’ve applied for “extended learning” funding that will be applied to a Saturday School program and afterschool tutoring.

“It’s voluntary,” Steinhaus said of the Saturday School program. “It’s not extending school for every student, it’s just for those who want extra help. It’s not a punishment. When people hear the words ‘Saturday School,’ they think it is punishment. It’s not.”

Public hearings on the school budget start May 14.