Massengale: How Education Has Shaped This Town

By KATE MASSENGALE Ph.D
Retired Associate Professor of English
Retired Dean of Instruction

It will come as no surprise that I support the increase of one mil for UNM-LA this January, as I began teaching there in 1993 and retired as Dean of Instruction in 2013. But my commitment to education began a long time ago. Despite having no children of our own, my husband Bill and I have always voted to support K-12 education wherever we lived. And we have given to our alma maters Texas A & M and Rice University. But in recent years, we have focused our giving to UNM-LA because of its great need. 

I know, from the years I spent there, that it uses its resources well, focuses on serving the student and the community, and has been suffering years of budget cuts – yet still manages to be innovative and develop key programs that are directly related to needs in this county.

UNM-Los Alamos, by state law and statute, cannot receive monies from UNM or the public schools. And as state budgets are cut, funding is constantly reduced, so despite increasing enrollment and new dynamic programs in health care and technology, and one of the highest standards in math and the sciences, UNM-LA faces what has grown to be a serious problem in operational funds. 

Los Alamos is a proud and generous county, and it stepped up to the plate when UNM-LA was founded, promising the one mil that was required to have a university branch college in town (starting low and increasing over time to 1 full mill). But 30 plus years have gone by with no increased commitment from us, yet a newer program of dual credit, serving Los Alamos high school students (299 LAPS students this past year), has been helping them get college credit while in high school, and the state has not been able to reimburse the costs of that program. 

From an accounting by the state education department, last year’s cost of serving those high school students was $82,041, but the state was able to fund only $5,273. As some have commented, UNM-LA is providing an important and valuable service, but the public school program cannot legally fund it, and the higher education program cannot afford to fund it as originally planned. Some colleges are limiting dual credit offerings, or not doing them at all because of this lack of funding, others – like UNM-LA – have embraced the program because of the service it provides to our communities. 

In the past five years, UNM-LA has been able to renovate key building areas, buy equipment for programs such as Emergency Medical Services, and develop new certificates because of its strategic use of grant funding, general obligation bond funding, and donations specifically for certain programs. However, regular operational funds continue to decline. That has meant a loss of staff and faculty, with some leaving altogether, others working at less than original FTE. Vacant positions are often not filled, and every dollar is stretched to the limit. Without a YES vote, who knows how long UNM-LA can continue to offer one of the best transfer programs in the state, as well as degree programs like EMS, Sciences and Technology.

 While the public schools are concentrating on the physical buildings on each campus (as they have needed to do and which I strongly support), UNM-LA is in desperate need of operational funds to increase recently lost faculty and staff positions to continue delivering the programs it has worked so hard to develop. Please look at www.educationdrivesdiscovery.org or facebook.com/EducationDrivesDiscovery to find out more information about how the funding will be used.

For a homeowner whose home is worth $300K, the tax increase of $100 a year is so very worthwhile, when one thinks about how education has shaped what this town is, what it has contributed to the world, and how it has enriched our own lives. Please vote for Education, vote YES for UNM-LA.

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