On Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, the Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) Administration presented a five year financial forecast to the Los Alamos School Board. The chief concern represented in their forecast is that declining enrollment from in-district families endangers the breadth and depth of academic programs and services Los Alamos has come to expect. In order to provide the diversity of middle and high school student programs currently available, LAPS needs a total enrollment of at least 3,500 students.
Over the past few years, there has been a decline of in-district students of 2.0 percent to 2.5 percent annually. Out-of-district students have been admitted to make up the difference and have allowed LAPS to reach its enrollment goal, sustaining revenue and programs. Currently, there are about 400 out-of-district students attending LAPS; about 12 percent of the student population. About 300 out-of- district students are in elementary school while about 100 are split between the middle and high schools.
Going forward, the LAPS Administration is concerned about the continued decline in enrollment among in-district students as well as the increasing challenge of finding enough out-of-district students to offset the decline. The financial forecast presented Thursday night highlights the impact of declining enrollment on funding for our schools. The forecast reflects increases for uncontrollable expenses like health care, utilities, and insurance; and includes projected 2 percent salary increases for faculty and staff.
This LAPS forecast provides a sensitivity analysis, showing three scenarios; identifying the implications of enrollment declines of 2 percent, 3 percent, and 5 percent over each of the next five years.
In the worst case, the schools would face a $9.4M annual shortfall by 2019 representing more than 20 percent of the anticipated $41M school budget projection. In the best case presented, the shortfall in 2019 would still be $6.7M.
To see the forecast, go to http://www.laschools.net/Page/5688 and click on the Full Agenda for the 10/24/2013 School Board Work Session.
Years ago, some forward thinking leaders in LAPS and the community began developing a property portfolio to generate lease revenue to support our schools. That pot has a healthy $8M balance today, but annual revenue is not projected to grow much above $2.2M – even when the Trinity Complex is complete and generating full revenue. Even if the School Board approved the use of all lease revenue for operating expense, there would still be net operating shortfalls for LAPS in the $4.5M to $7.2M range five years from now; 11 percent to 18 percent of the forecast budget level.
It is difficult to imagine that cuts anywhere in this range could be accommodated without fundamentally altering the diversity of programs and the quality of student experience our community has come to expect.
Save Our Schools Los Alamos is concerned that impacts could include: cutting specific academic programs at the middle and high schools; a shift to in-school on-line education for our students; threatening programs for gifted and special needs students; scaling back student opportunities for athletic, cultural, social, and intellectual enrichment; and, scrimping on salary increases to the point where our most gifted faculty and staff leave our system.
Save Our Schools Los Alamos applauds the LAPS Board and Administration for conducting this study and for initiating this discussion about the financial outlook for our schools. The next step for the LAPS leadership is to host and guide a public discussion about what our schools and our student experience might look like under these scenarios.
Save Our School Los Alamos believes that an open, frank discussion about this situation is essential. Armed with the financial facts, and aided by a LAPS-led discussion about potential impacts, the community will need to coalesce around a position about the quality of K-12 education we expect, and around a path for financing that vision.
Stay informed about this issue by reading the Education 101 column each Sunday in the Los Alamos Daily Post. You can read archived columns and other research and media at http://soslosalamos.com.