Letter To The Editor: Please Join Us In The Renewal Of HB33 School Tax

By SUSAN AND TIM O’LEARY
Los Alamos

This week, Los Alamos voters received a mail-in ballot on the question of continuing a modest property tax levy to support our local public schools. The measure authorizes the continuation of a $3.25 tax on every $1,000 dollars of assessed real property valuation. Because of all the exemptions in our housing valuation system, a yes vote on this ballot would mean that a typical home with a market value of $300,000 would continue to pay a little over $300 a year, generating about $2.2 million per year for our local schools.

We’re writing to respectfully ask you to join us in supporting this measure.

Different people have different ideas about what makes Los Alamos a special place to live. When we moved here, we wanted the natural and cultural beauty of Northern New Mexico and we wanted to be part of an interesting, engaged community. When weighing all the strengths and the few rough spots in our community the one absolutely non-negotiable issue for us was high quality public education; something that’s very hard to find in remote, scenic parts of the country. We think a lot of the people who consider moving here put the same value on quality public schools; and we think it’s possible that some people who have lived here for a long time may take the schools for granted and assume they’ll somehow always be as good as they were in the 80s and 90s.

We agree with the many people who have argued over the years that school spending is not the most important factor in student success. A very high majority of the children who show up for school in Los Alamos every day are well rested, well fed, well prepared and well nurtured. That’s tremendously important for a positive academic outcome. But there’s also some minimum threshold level of resourcing that needs to be in place to adequately pay faculty and staff, to support decent facilities, to provide for other educational expenses, and to provide for the kind of student enrichment programs our community expects. After some pretty detailed study, we’re strongly convinced that LAPS is at serious risk of falling below that threshold. 

The K-12 funding situation in New Mexico is flat-out bad; and Los Alamos is an unfortunate passenger on that train. The authoritative Education Week annual rankings of school effectiveness just came out and New Mexico again ranked 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia; earning a D score overall, the lowest score awarded. As citizens of New Mexico, we should all be deeply concerned about that outcome. As residents of Los Alamos, we need to understand that the severe education problem statewide is also hurting us locally on the money end.

While schools are locally funded to local standards in many states, the State of New Mexico tightly controls an arcane mix of funding flows to our schools; and severely limits our ability to provide additional funding to bring schools above a state standard to a higher local standard. While our schools receive some additional federal support, just as public schools across the country near military bases and other large federal institutions do, we remain far, far behind our income and educational-attainment peer communities nationwide in terms of school funding. 

The community owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Los Alamos Public School Board and Administration for nursing our schools along as inflation-adjusted funding per student has declined over the past 15 years. With the trajectory state funding is on, in the next 15 years Los Alamos is going to have to be even more creative and do even more to keep our schools afloat. Under our state’s system, there is no single windfall step we can take to ensure the viability of our schools going forward. We’re going to have to take five or 10 small steps to support the schools our community expects and deserves. Approving the continuation of this very modest property tax is one important step we can take to move in that direction.

To learn more about the complex funding scheme that impacts K-12 public education in Los Alamos, please go to http://soslosalamos.com/about-2/sosla-articles/. But first, vote to support HB33 and get the ballot mailed. As parents with children who will benefit from your support, we thank you.

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