By ANDREA CUNNINGHAM
LAPS School Board
Have you ever had a chance encounter where a random conversation stays with you? I recently had that experience while traveling when I happened to sit near a chemistry professor from UNM’s Albuquerque Campus. After exchanging pleasantries, I happened to mention that I was from Los Alamos. His first reaction was, “They have great schools in Los Alamos! I pay $21,000 a year to send my child to (Albuquerque) Academy to get the same caliber of education that you guys get for free!”
That statement really sticks with me as I check “yes” on my ballot and proudly support our schools. As a parent of three children who benefited from our school system and as a School Board member, I already know our schools are excellent and understand how much this bond is needed to maintain our facilities. For example, Barranca Mesa Elementary, next on the renovation list, desperately needs new heating and sewage systems just to remain functioning. But I, and I think many others, can take our District for granted and don’t really think about the impact a great school system has on a community and how little we actually pay for such an asset.
While one can argue, our educational system is not really “free”, since we pay taxes, remember that our professor also pays taxes into a public education system he doesn’t utilize, instead paying tens of thousands of dollars for private school tuition. In calculating property tax on a house valued at $300,000, Los Alamos has an average property tax of $1,893, New Mexico (on average) is $2,172 and nationally, the cost is $3,633. In voting for the LAPS bond, there is no tax rate increase, so voting “YES” will keep your tax rate the same as it is now, which is half the nation average.
I also support the UNM-LA mil levy, understanding that there will be a much needed, small increase. It may come as a surprise that LAPS students pay no tuition to take dual credit classes at UNM-LA. The University offers this service to our public-school students, and last year only received a tiny fraction of funding back from the State. UNM-LA supports LAPS in addition to being a community resource for many of our community organizations and non-profits and deserves our support.
Those who do not have children in the schools may ask why they should support these bonds. In addition to supporting education and the community at large, good school systems equal higher property values. When my family and I were looking at returning to Ann Arbor, Michigan several years ago, we found that the cost of a house was directly correlated with the caliber of the associated school. There was a difference of as much as $80,000 for almost identical houses across the street from each other just because one was in a higher ranked school district.
Voting yes on both bonds makes good sense: No tax increase to support the best public school system in the State, and approximately $0.25 per day (based on an increase of $100/year) to support our local University. I think supporting our educational system is well worth our spare change!