Williams: School Funding And Taxes

Los Alamos

As vice president of the LAPS School Board I would like to present some of my very simple ideas about our taxes and how they fund our schools. If there are any errors in this writeup there are mine and mine alone, I also do not speak for the School Board. I hope the readers find this information useful.

I typically think of these taxes in three main categories:

  • Operational;
  • House Bill 33 (Referendum); and
  • Capital Reinvestment.

There are other peripheral categories, but these are the main ones. Here is a general description of these three categories:

Operational: This is commonly referred to as the day-to-day operations money, e.g. teachers salaries, books, photocopies to name a few examples. The tax we pay to support this portion of the schools budget is the “death and taxes” portion of our taxes that support public education. New Mexico is a bit unique in that they take this money from our property taxes (you have no say in that matter) and the State puts it into a big pot at the Sate level. The money is then reapportioned throughout  all public schools based on need. The need of a school is determined by a convoluted formula called the State Equalization Guarantee (SEG), an important factor in this formula is the number of students in a School District.

I typically use the number $7,200 per student that we receive through the SEG. The actual number is closer to $8,000, but a chunk that money is for special programs and that money “follows the student”. We received roughly $28 million last year for a school population of about 3465. One important point is that New Mexico is one of only two states where you don’t live in a fancy neighborhood, pay high taxes and receive a well funded local School District in return for that money. Personally, I agree with this philosophy. There are incredibly poor areas of New Mexico and I am quite amenable to help fund adequate education in these poor rural areas. (Whoops, I was trying to keep this objective).

House Bill 33 (Referendum): This money comes from our taxes, but it must be approved by voters every six years. This is the money that the current election is deciding. We have had this referendum money in place since 1988.The mil levy (or the amount taken from our taxes) is fixed by State law and cannot be changed locally. This money covers much of the basic maintenance of our facilities, as well as supports activity buses, band instruments and similar  items. This money also is instrumental to building and maintaining a modern technological infrastructure. This tax could never be a one time tax – building maintenance and a modern IT infrastructure are simply ongoing costs.

General Obligation (G.O.) Bonds: This money also comes from our property taxes and requires voter approval. The original installment of these bonds was approved in 2009, and subsequently approved again in 2013. The next request for voter approval will be coming in January 2017, in less than a year. These bond elections are part of a 20 to 25 year vision to renovate all of our schools. The amount of the bond will almost always be decided by the requirement to “bond to capacity” in order to be eligible for any State matching funds.

The State has given us roughly $18 million dollars in matching funds  since 2009. The G.O. Bond money is primarily used for major school renovations. The construction at the High School, Middle School and Aspen School are all results of taxpayer approval of these funds. The idea of these renovations is to reduce debilitating costs of major facilities projects by upgrading all of our facilities to current physical and programmatic standards.

I hope to have more columns and information for our community throughout the coming year.