Chamisa School Public Meeting Draws Parent Input

Emphasizing that he is hosting last Tuesday night’s ‘State of Chamisa’ public meeting as a private citizan and not in his role as a school board member, Matt Williams proceeded to lay out the issues related to refurbishing the three elementary schools deemed most in need among Los Alamos Public Schools. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Chamisa parent Tadeusz Raven, back row center, shares his ideas during public comment. Photo by Carol A. Clark/


Los Alamos Daily Post

During a public meeting last Tuesday at the Chamisa Elementary School Gymnasium in White Rock, School Board Vice President Matt Williams hosted an informative discussion about issues facing Los Alamos Public Schools.

Williams clarified to the audience that he was speaking as a resident rather than board member. He presented information from the recent budget committee meetings and the District’s 20-Year Facilities Plan.

The LAPS School Board will likely need to commit to which elementary school will be rebuilt and how that rebuild will affect the other school sites, Williams said. Other topics included enrollment trends and out of district enrollment. Williams said the district is losing 100 students per year, adding that the Lab’s employment trend is flat and young people and families aren’t moving to town.

Chamisa Principal Debbie Smith told the audience that new classes are only created when in-district students surpass the enrollment limit in a classroom. Once the determination has been made to create a new class, only then are out of district students eligible to apply.

Chamisa and Pinon elementary schools in White Rock and Barranca Elementary in Los Alamos are on the state’s list of 100 most dilapidated school buildings – with Pinon deemed in worst shape of the three. Because of this, these three schools qualify for state matching funds of 42 percent. The challenge is to determine which school or schools should be refurbished and whether to combine Chamisa and Pinon. Mountain Elementary in Los Alamos is in need of maintenance but does not qualify for matching funds at this time.

Options under consideration:

  1. Refurbish Barranca, Pinon and Chamisa;
  2. Refurbish Barranca and Pinon; or
  3. Refurbish Barranca and refurbish Pinon into a combined Pinon/Chamisa school.

Following the presentation, audience members participated in an open dialogue of how Chamisa Elementary School may fit into the potential scenarios that will be considered by the district in the very near future.

Chamisa parent Tadeusz Raven said he is concerned about option 3 and cannot support a combined elementary school that has the potential to have 600 students.

“We currently have two very good elementary schools, if it is not broken don’t fix it,” Raven said. “Six hundred students in an elementary school would be much larger than any other elementary school in the district.”

He added that large schools traditionally have a more difficult time with kids getting lost in the “cracks”. Teachers traditionally do not prefer teaching at larger schools, staff often does not know each other as well and kids generally have a more difficult time fitting in.”

Raven explained that the refurbishment at Los Alamos High school, Los Alamos Middle School and Aspen Elementary have shown that children in a combined school will have much less space per student for non-classroom activities.

“It is unlikely that a combined school will have the same gym, music room, art room, library and other secondary facilities in square footage per student, and they will absolutely have less playground space per student,” Raven said. “Currently, children who are a quarter of a mile away from Chamisa will need to walk or be bused one-and-a-half or more miles to the proposed consolidated school. Instead of a five minute walk each way – this becomes a 30 plus minute walk each way and they have to cross at least one major street.”

Raven also said that houses that are within one mile of an elementary school have a higher value, thus a higher taxable base. Closing the school would drop the home values in the Chamisa district, which will reduce income from property tax as well as resale values of the home, he said. 

He also raised the question of what the district will do with the Chamisa elementary space, saying it is unlikely that anyone will rent it, however if it’s sold, it has the potential to become a charter school within the district, which could substantially impact LAPS funding.

Raven said one of the primary pushes stated for a combined school is that it will save money. However, when all of the secondary effects are considered, such as busing students, drop in revenue from depreciated property, cost of having to maintain an empty building or sell the building to a charter competitor, it is unlikely that is will save much if any money, for the community, by combining the elementary schools, he said.

“I am concerned and would be opposed to option 2 without a commitment to refurbish Chamisa,” Raven said. “When Pinon has finished the refurbishment it will be easy to politically push for the closing of Chamisa because it will then have a high maintenance cost compared to the other school in town. Or worse, the bond will fail because three elementary schools have been done so why do we need to fix Chamisa?”

Raven concluded his remarks saying that the issue about Pinon being the site of the combined school is an issue created by the short shortsightedness of the district when they sold the land so that the Pinon Trails subdivision could be built.

“That site was a perfect central location in White Rock to build a combined school,” he said.

Matt Willams asks the audiance to share their opinions on the school situation because the district will need to make a decision in approximately five months. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Chamisa Principal Debbie Smith participates in the discussion at last Tuesday’s public meeting in Chamisa Gymnasium. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Matt Williams presents enrollment and other statistics during last Tuesday’s ‘State of Chamisa’ event at Chamisa School in White Rock. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Matt Williams indicated in his presentation that the current trend shows enrollment is decreasing by 100 students annually across the district. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Photo by Carol A. Clark/

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