School Board Unanimously Passes 2020-2021 Budget

Los Alamos Daily Post

Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus presented the Los Alamos Public Schools Budget for the 2020-2021 School Year to the School Board Tuesday evening for approval at the Regular School Board Meeting held virtually.

The budget was passed unanimously by the full board on a roll-call vote.

LAPS Business Manager Teresa Gatewood headed up the Budget Committee, which consisted of both staff and community members. The total is certainly not set in stone because of the volatility of conditions due to the pandemic, but the figure in the budget document is approximately $32 million, up $3 million from last year, according to LAPS documents.

“The budget could be changed later on, if circumstances change,” Steinhaus said.

Topics covered by his presentation include:
LAPS Strategic Plan
Budget Process – Student, Staff and Community Input
High-Level Considerations
State Budget
Leased Facilities Funds
Goals of the Strategic Plan incude:
Student Well-Being
Student Learning
Teacher and Staff Well-being and Excellence
Fiscal Responsibility
Quality Facilities
Innovative Leadership
Communications and Collaboration
Integrated Technology

Meeting these goals was the first priority in the budget development process, Steinhaus said. The District received input from a number of sources including:
Parent Advisory Council,
Native American Parent Advisory Council and Community meetings
Students and Employees, and
Principals and Cabinet members

One high level budget consideration was the four percent raise for all school employees required by the New Mexico Legislature. In spite of that, this is an essentially flat budget, very close to last year’s spending levels, Steinhaus said. The major, and as yet unknown, impact of COVID-19 will have an impact on the budget this year, and possibly beyond, he said.

“The legislature is going to have a special budget session in June that will likely change our budget,” Steinhaus said.

New Mexico is facing a shortfall of $1.7-$2.4 billion in the next fiscal year and is short $368-$483 million for the current year.

The state is well positioned for the current year with more than 25 percent reserves and the ability to delay some projects to balance this year’s budget, Steinhaus said. The state is expected to receive more than $1 billion from the federal Coronavirus stimulus package. Superintendents from around the state are working with the Education Department and the Governor to set priorities, Steinhaus said. The portion of the budget that comes from lease funds is usually the most contentious part of the budget, since funding from other sources is largely already earmarked. This year was an exception. The entire school board praised the work of Steinhaus and the budget committee and had no quarrel with any of the items funded through lease funds.

“The budget committee did a fabulous job,” Board President Ellen Ben-Naim said. “We received the budget two weeks early, so there was plenty of time to review it and get our questions answered.”
The lease fund balance rose from $5,042,762 in July, 2015 to $11,410,879 in May 2019, according to School District staff. Total lease funds collected for the 2019-20 fiscal year is $2,194,251. In addition, Los Alamos County contributes around $1 million for LAPS facilities. Some renters of school property are unable to pay full rent because they cannot operate during the pandemic.

Windgate Healing has agreed to make improvements to the property in lieu of rent and Children’s Montessori has been excused from paying rent until it is allowed to reopen. The motions authorizing these two agreements passed unanimously.

Steinhaus thanked the families of Little Forest Playschool who raised the school’s rental funds rather than asking for rent relief.

Because of uncertainties in the level of funding from state and federal government, additional Pre-K at Mountain Elementary and full-day Pre-K at Pinon are still up in the air, Steinhaus said.

So far, registered students are down by 15 as compared to last year. This year’s total to date is 3,707 students.

Steinhaus attributed this to a lack of housing in Los Alamos, and noted that it could change as more housing becomes available.

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