By JIM HALL
This is the second of three articles explaining why I am running for Re-election to the LAPS Board. My first article provided some basic information about LAPS as an institution, the duties of the Board, and some major accomplishments of the current Board and administration. This column will focus on current issues.
The biggest current issue is operational funding. In New Mexico, 90 percent of school operational funds are allocated to school districts based on a complex formula (see http://www.ped.state.nm.us/div/fin/school.budget/dl09/How%20NM%20schools%20are%20fundedFY0209.pdf for a full discussion). Localities are not allowed to vote additional funds for operations, although LAPS does receive limited additional funds from DOE and leasing real estate. Therefore, state budget cuts reduce our budget and this is a bad fiscal year for New Mexico. This fiscal year (2016-2017) the LAPS budget received a mid-year cut of over $660,000 and, based on current predictions, will receive an additional funding cut of about $200,000. Next year (2017-2018) may well see an additional operating cut of $500,000 to $750,000. LAPS will get through this year without staff cuts because of conservative 2016-2017 budgeting by the Board, aggressive fiscal management by the administration, and use of reserve funds.
This funding challenge puts at risk my first priority for the coming year (which I hope is shared by the Board): increasing teacher compensation. Our teachers are underpaid. The best the Board could do in 2016-2017 was to maintain staff take-home pay in spite of increased insurance and retirement costs. If at all possible, LAPS, in coming negotiations with the teachers’ union, needs to find ways to increase compensation in 2017-2018. This is THE major challenge and will require from all stakeholders (1) deep knowledge of district operations, (2) great creativity, (3) dedicated cooperation, and (4) difficult choices.
The second issue being addressed by the Board is student well-being. After the work of the Mental Health Design Team, the Board made several decisions. First, the Board decided to integrate existing physical and mental health programs into an integrated student well-being strategy and build an integrated K-12 curriculum.
The District was already spending between $1.8 million and $2.2 million on related programs (depending on which staff one includes). Second, the Board funded a central office director for this strategy to report directly to the Superintendent. Christine Koblentz, the new director, is delivering periodic reports to the Board.
Third, the Board and Administration pursued (with LA County support) a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NM Department of Health study of teen suicide in Los Alamos.
Results of the recently completed study will be used in continuing improvement in the overall strategy. Also, since LAPS does not provide mental health treatment, coordination with LAC programs and private providers is integral to successful implementation. Los Alamos County, and in particular, Kim Gabaldon, has been instrumental in this process.
The third current issue is expanding program offerings to meet student educational needs, particularly at the high school. Appling for an XQ school grant (see https://xqsuperschool.org/) and visits to the Arrowhead Academy in Los Cruces have turned into an initiative to (1) extend and invigorate our early college high school (ECHS) programs and (2) offer more project-based learning. As a result, students taking courses at UNM/LA has increased more than 100 percent over last year, and LAPS is working with the UNM/LA administration to further coordinate course offerings.
I expect the Board to further explore additional opportunities for project-based coursework in the coming months.
Finally, the Board is looking at ways to increase the well-being of our staff—first by increased compensation. Also, LAPS recently completed the second year of a system-wide staff climate survey that looked at staff satisfaction. These will be used to review LAPS policies and working environments.
These activities will help LAPS prepare our students to deal with the current digital revolution. My commitment is to have LAPS meet its goals for ALL students: to love learning, have great skills, and know basic facts. This will be the subject of my next letter.