School Board Offers Budget Recommendations

A large crowd attended the May 14 School Board meeting. A number of students, staff and community members were honored at the meeting and the Board decided on its recommendations to the LAPS Budget Committee. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
 
LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt gives a budget overview to the School Board Tuesday. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
 
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Los Alamos School Board made its final 2013-2014 school year budget recommendations to Los Alamos Public Schools staff at its May 14 meeting.

Staff will present the final budget to the Board for approval May 23. The budget must be in its final form by May 30.

A 40-member Budget Committee met April 17, April 24, May 1 and May 8 and a 10-member Budget Steering committee held four separate meetings to guide the process. Initial findings were presented at a May 9 School Board meeting.

School Board members Jim Hall, Judy Bjarke-McKenzie, David Foster and Kevin Honnell were present Tuesday and Board Secretary Matt Williams participated via phone link from London, England.

LAPS Superintendent Gene Schmidt presented an overall look at the savings needed to balance the budget. Net additional funds need to total $962,052.58, he said.

Schmidt explained that this year’s budget shortfalls were caused by a variety of reasons. State funding for LAPS is down $88,993.07, partially due to special education students graduating to regular classrooms, he said.

The amount of $267,814. 97 will be required for state mandated 1 percent raises for school staff, $106, 193.00 for state mandated increases in medical benefits, $118,165 in projected increased utility costs, $41,000 in unemployment premium increases and $219,399 in liability premium increases.  

Other cost increases for this year are driven by implementation of the LAPS Strategic Plan. The Budget Committee has trimmed proposed expenses in the Plan from $800,000 to $570,000 so far. Operational cost savings of $299,000 have been identified at this point.

Working from Board recommendations at the May 9 meeting, LAPS staff and the Budget Steering Committee returned to the Board with additional recommendations.  

Avoiding staff layoffs is a high priority of the Budget Committee, School Board and LAPS staff. The Committee is proposing to leave vacant seven positions on the teaching staff created by retirements for a savings of $490,000.

Proposals involve reducing two classes at Aspen Elementary School , two classes at Barranca Elementary and one class at Pinon Elementary. Some out-of-district students could potentially have to move to a different school. These actions would bring the student teacher ratio to 13.09, which is close to the historical average ratio of 13.30.

Teachers, school principals and Board members stressed that “out of district kids are our kids.” Williams pointed out that we do not want to treat any student as “a second class citizen.”

Several teachers weighed in with concerns that because of increased health care and retirement costs, teacher pay will shrink in spite of the one percent increase mandated by the state.

In the final analysis, Board recommendations focused on several points. The Board asked the Budget Committee to address the problem areas in class size (fourth grade classes at Pinon and Barranca) and to move out-of district students only as “a very last resort.” The schools will issue a statement to parents asking if either in or out of district students would like to move to another school voluntarily.

The Board asked the Committee to take another look at the Strategic Plan.

“We’ve scrubbed it once, let’s scrub it again,” Hall said, speaking for the Board. “Some things it’s critical to do right now. Others, including the Public Information Officer position can wait or be scaled back.”

Foster asked the Committee to “be cautious about excessive scrutiny in the training area.”

Salary negotiations with teachers are continuing, but the Board is committed to raising salaries above the mandated one percent, Hall said. He promised that the budget process won’t be so compressed next year.

“We’ll look at everything, including possible closing schools,” Hall said. “We have to do a better job of dealing with the long-term issues.”

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