This school year, Los Alamos Public Schools received $33M from State ($25M) and Federal ($8M) governments but is operating at a budget of $36M. The gap between revenue and expense ($3M) was paid primarily from the Los Alamos Public Schools lease fund.
Even though Los Alamos Public Schools spent about $3M over the State and Federal allotments, some Los Alamos families have been negatively impacted by a shortage of school funds. Ask the parents of second graders at Mountain, Barranca and Aspen Elementary Schools who saw class sizes rise to what many parents feel are unacceptable levels. The Los Alamos School District does not have the money to hire more teachers to improve this situation.
In the coming weeks, Los Alamos Public Schools will release a five year forecast that indicates how revenue and expenses will likely trend in the near to mid-term. The growing gap between available resources and community expectations is expected to continue and under many scenarios would become more severe.
The primary reasons for this funding gap are declining income from the State of New Mexico driven by decreasing enrollment at our Public Schools coupled with increased costs for staff healthcare, insurance, utilities, and other uncontrollable expenses. To provide some scale, a 2 percent decline in enrollment results in a loss of about $1.26M in State funding which accounts for about 18 teacher positions. The deteriorating financial situation, sustained over consecutive years, will necessitate cutting current programs, cutting staff, and increasing class size. More draconian cuts will be required over time if funding declines more rapidly or costs rise more aggressively. Meanwhile, the community’s expectation for education quality has not changed.
A group of Los Alamos residents, many with children currently in Los Alamos public schools, have come to realize that the wonderful, high quality public education enjoyed by prior generations of Los Alamos citizens is at risk. As residents who were attracted to Los Alamos in large part by the “high quality” public schools, we’re deeply concerned by these negative financial trends that threaten the quality and breadth of education here.
We’ve formed a group called Save Our Schools Los Alamos (SOSLA) to educate ourselves and share information with the community about this critical issue while working toward solutions to improve the funding situation for Los Alamos Public Schools. Over the coming months, we’ll write weekly columns that will explore aspects of education funding. The issue is complex with a lot of moving parts – State, Federal, and Local funding as well as teacher compensation, community expectations, and the cost of specific education programs. We understand that reasonable people can disagree about the severity of the problem, and about appropriate responses. What we’d like to promote is a robust, informed public discussion on an issue that we consider central to the quality of life and long-term viability of our community.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Save Our Schools Los Alamos, and access all of the information it has compiled about this issue, visit http://soslosalamos.com. Read a weekly column by Save Our Schools Los Alamos each Sunday in the Los Alamos Daily Post under Education Funding 101. Next week, the topic is Governance of K-12 Education: The Role of the Board of Education, School Administration, Local, State and Federal Governments.