I find myself in a unique position to see why both issues being raised on the mail-in ballot in January are worthy of our community’s support, and here is why.
First and foremost, I am the parent of a student attending Barranca Mesa Elementary School. While the initiative to rebuild Barranca will most likely not benefit my daughter personally before she moves on to Los Alamos Middle School, I fully support the bond being put forth by Los Alamos Public Schools. Our investment in education is so important to our community and especially our youth, who are the leaders of the future. The LAPS bond will provide the funds for much-needed capital improvements to Barranca school. If our students have the facilities and resources to learn, they will undoubtedly be capable of great things. We owe it to the students and the community of Los Alamos to support this worthwhile cause.
The Mil Levy question for UNM-LA may not be so clear-cut for some members of our community, but it is equally as important as building schools for our younger students. Full disclosure: I work part-time at UNM-LA, but I feel I can see the value from the standpoint of a citizen of Los Alamos.
For a moment please think about what UNM-LA is to Los Alamos, and how it serves our community. The citizens of Los Alamos voted in 1980 to bring a branch of UNM to our town. This makes perfect sense to me, because we are a community that highly values education. Education comes in many shapes and sizes, however. UNM-LA offers many programs for a wide variety of individuals – there is no one “typical student” at UNM-LA. Sure, there are certificate programs, Associates degrees, and 2-year transfer programs for typical students who attend after graduating high school. But UNM-LA is so much more than that. Here are a few examples of the types of “students” I have encountered during my time at UNM-LA:
- A single mother taking classes, who participated in a UNM-LA internship program and was subsequently offered a full-time job, which allowed her to stay and raise her family in Los Alamos;
- A member of the Los Alamos Fire Department taking advantage of the new EMS wing constructed at UNM-LA with grant money, who wants to better serve the community of Los Alamos and ensure they stay safe;
- A high school student pursuing a hands-on internship in Mechanical Engineering because the student wants to learn, but doesn’t feel higher education is the right fit after high school;
- A mother who had a successful career, took time off to raise her family, but then wanted to reenter the workforce in a different field; and
- A student from another country who followed her family here and then wanted to shore up her English through the ESL program at UNM-LA, which lead to further studies and eventually a job.
The list goes on. UNM-LA serves so many members of our community in so many ways. But the reality is, funding is extremely tight. A common misconception is that UNM-LA receives money from the main campus in Albuquerque, but this is not true. The main source of funding for UNM-LA is State appropriations, but these have consistently been cut year after year. UNM-LA has had to make sacrifices, but it still continues to provide the very best it can for our community despite these limitations in resources. 2-year institutions in New Mexico also rely on financial support from their communities. Los Alamos currently supports 1 Mil for UNM-LA, which means property owners pay a tax of $33 for every $100,000 of assessed value of a home. This is less than $100 a year, or $9 a month, for the average homeowner. The question on the ballot in January asks for an additional 1 Mil, at the same tax rate.
Does that sound like a lot to you? To me, it doesn’t. Especially when I consider that when compared with other colleges in New Mexico, Los Alamos is one of only two that assesses only a 1 Mil property tax, while others have anywhere from 2-5 Mil. Can it be that Los Alamos, a town that is so proud of its support for education, provides the lowest level of funding among 2-year community institutions in the state? That makes me sad for our community.
If you still find yourself asking why the UNM-LA Mil Levy deserves your vote this January, I invite you to visit the Education Drives Discovery website (EducationDrivesDiscovery.org), the Facebook page (Facebook.com/EducationDrivesDiscovery), or contact the committee at 505.423.0459 or email@example.com to learn more. I think we at least owe it to ourselves and to Los Alamos to learn how UNM-LA serves our community and why it deserves our support.