Los Alamos School Board members from left, Jim Hall, David Foster, Vice President Kevin Honnell and President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie listen as Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn presents figures on class sizes during Thursday’s Special School Board Meeting. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
The Los Alamos School Board continued to grapple with class size and the budget at the Special School Board Meeting Thursday in the Pinon Elementary School Library.
Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn presented his ideas on how to best balance class size with the District’s financial resources. Washburn proposed adding three teachers: one at Aspen Elementary, one at Barranca Mesa Elementary and one at Los Alamos Middle School.
Although first grade classes at Mountain Elementary remain large at 23 students, there is no room at the school to create another class, Washburn said. This is being addressed by placing a full-time aide in each first-grade class, he said.
The cost to the district of adding the three teachers is $80,000 per teacher for a total of $240,000. The additional teachers would be funded through the District’s lease income.
The Board is grappling with declining enrollment in the school district. Current enrollment is 3,438 students and that number is expected to drop to 3,160 by 2017-2018, in what Washburn called “a very conservative estimate.”
“If I had to guess, I’d say 2017-18 enrollment would be more like 2,800,” Washburn said.
Because State funding depends on the number of students in the District, this poses a serious problem for Los Alamos. Los Alamos could face a reduction in State funding of approximately $500,000 by 2017-2018.
The number of students in each elementary school district has been skewed by housing patterns. Mountain Elementary is bursting at the seams with 453 students, while Chamisa has only 263.
A possible solution would be to close a school in White Rock and move all out-of district students to schools in the Los Alamos townsite. This would be problematic for a number of reasons and Washburn said he is not advocating this solution, only raising it as a possibility.
“We would have to deal with the emotion of closing a school,” he said.
Closing a White Rock school could potentially save money and solve the districting problems, but any decision on the matter is at least a year away, the Board indicated in its discussion.
“I think we need to look at this hard over one year,” School Board Member Jim Hall said. “The County keeps talking about building housing in White Rock and it would be high density housing. We might see an influx of younger families coming into White Rock.”
Board Vice-President Kevin Honnell pointed out that a School Bond Election is set for 2017, so 2.5 years remain to gather input on building projects, including possibly a new school in White Rock that would house all White Rock students.