LAPS Issues School Board Update

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The LAPS School Board met virtually June 24 for its June work session. Board members in attendance included Julia Baker, Ellen Ben-Naim, Christine Bernstein, Stephen Boerigter and Dawn Jalbert. 

 The meeting began with President Ben-Naim recognizing Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus for his leadership of the Safe-Start Task Force and working with staff for opening school in August.  The work of Dr. Steinhaus has been used as a statewide model, noted President Ben-Naim.  Dr. Steinhaus said thank you and acknowledged that it is a team effort with LAPS staff, parents and community members.  He said, “I have the pleasure of working with an amazing group of people who are much smarter than I.”

The board approved a motion to enable the Superintendent to further research outcomes from the Special Legislative Session, review the Public Education Department’s guidance, and consider possible changes to the unit value and school calendar. If necessary, the Superintendent will bring any recommended changes to the 2020-21 budget to the board once the Governor decides on House Bill 1.

At a special board meeting session held on Monday, board members voted to approve a 1% raise for all LAPS employees for the 2020-2021 school year, pending gubernatorial action on House Bill 1 from the 2020 Special Legislative Session. This action was taken just days before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. “On behalf of the staff, thank you,” said Whitney Muziani-Holland, President of Los Alamos Federation of School Employees.

Proposed amendments outlined in HB1 which will have a direct impact on LAPS include compensation, insurance costs and budget cuts. In addition, funding for the K-5+ program would be cut by $45 million. Under the Federal CARES Act, the state would take a 41% credit through the SEG, resulting in a loss of $17,600 for LAPS. The unit value, which is a figure per student used in the funding formula, is also being re-calculated by August 1, 2020. 

The bill also prioritizes additional instructional time for all students through participating in extended learning time programs to recover instructional time that was lost to students during the 2019-2020 school year due to the public health emergency. It may require an additional 10 days to the school year or a written explanation of how LAPS will make up lost learning time. The district already incorporated Extended Learning (XL) Saturdays in the proposed 2020-2021 school calendar for high school, middle school and upper elementary school students.

School board members were also updated on the work of staff in preparing for the 2020-2021 school year.  “All schools must enter the next school year with a hybrid or fully remote model,” explained Dr. Steinhaus. “The goal is to get all students back full time as soon as possible.”

The district’s Safe Start Task Force has been working on a plan for the past few weeks, taking into consideration guidance from the CDC, New Mexico Public Education Department, Department of Health and local leadership. The hybrid model will have the majority of students in school two days, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, each week while participating in remote learning three days a week. Some requirements for reentry include wearing masks, temperature checks and review of symptoms. Hand washing will become a regular routine.

The task force is also exploring other needs including childcare for staff as well as how to meet the needs of at-risk staff and students. “It will be a brand new way of doing school,” said President Ben-Naim.

“I believe we’ll come out of this with some positives,” said President Ben-Naim, adding that we’ll be able to serve kids in a better way than before.

Herb McLean, Director of Construction, provided the board with an update on the current projects nearing completion. The district received a Certificate of Occupancy a month ago to occupy the main 200 building at Barranca Elementary. Work continues on the bus loop and the new classroom addition. Landscaping is scheduled to begin soon. 

Work is almost complete on the 200 building at Mountain Elementary, with plans to begin moving into the 200 and 300 buildings in mid-July. “Everything else around the campus is scheduled to be complete in time for school to start,” said McLean. In addition, work on the LAHS Field House is on schedule to be complete in time for the first game scheduled for the end of August. Several school board members and county council members toured Barranca Elementary and the field house to see progress firsthand. 

The board then approved up to $160,000 for a new roof for the Little Forest Playschool building. The building is approximately 70 years old and has had several repairs to the roof over the years. 

The board also approved new lease agreements with the Children’s Montessori Preschool and the Los Alamos Schools Credit Union.

The next regular school board meeting is Tuesday, July 14 and is scheduled to meet virtually via Google Meet at 5:30 p.m.