BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Public Schools Interim Supt. Jennifer Guy took the opportunity at Wednesday’s League of Women Voters’ virtual candidates forum to explain the importance of the School District Mill Levy question on the Nov. 2 Local Election Ballot.
The question will appear on the ballot as follows:
Shall the Los Alamos Public School District continue to impose a property tax of $3.246 for residential and nonresidential property per each $1,000.00 of net taxable value of property allocated to the Los Alamos Public School District for the property tax years 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025, 2026 and 2027 for the purpose of (I) erecting, remodeling, making additions to, providing equipment for or furnishing public school buildings, including teacher housing and pre-kindergarten classroom facilities; (2) payments made pursuant to a financing agreement for the leasing of a building or other real property with an option to purchase for a price that is reduced according to payments made; (3) purchasing or improving public school grounds; (4) purchasing activity vehicles for transporting students to and from extracurricular school activities; (5) administering the projects undertaken pursuant to sections 1 and 3 above, including expenditures for facility maintenance software, project management software, project oversight and district personnel specifically related to administration of projects funded by the Public School Buildings Act provided that expenditures pursuant to this section shall not exceed five percent of the total project cost; and (6) purchasing and installing education technology improvements, excluding salary expenses of school district employees but including tools used in the educational process that constitute learning and administrative resources?
Guy explained that the ballot question asks to continue the current tax rate of 3.246 percent for the next six years.
“I wanted to make sure everybody understood what this critical funding is used for in Los Alamos Public Schools. We use this funding to pay for repairs to school buildings and emergency situations such as if there’s a plumbing leak, if there’s some renovations needed. We use this money to upkeep and maintain our buildings. We use this money for furniture, to support teachers in classrooms for things they need,” she said. “We also use this money for things like computers and Chromebooks and laptops. When we transitioned to online instruction in March 2020, one of the ways we were able to do this successfully in Los Alamos was completely because of this tax act. This money allowed us to make sure every student in the district had access to computers and was able to take them home.”
Guy said this money supports playground equipment.
“We recently put in a playground at Mountain Elementary School for our preschool students and while pre-k funded part of the playground, we were able to finish the project because of this spending stream. We plan to do improvements to the Barranca Mesa Elementary School playground if we’re able to continue with this,” she said.
Guy said when she asked principals recently why they felt this spending stream was important to them, every single principal in the district identified it as critical to their operations.
“We’re grateful to the community for supporting our kids and supporting learning and instruction in our schools. This money is more than just about school buildings. This money is about a lot of the things we do in our schools. It pays for software to support learning. If your child is doing something on a computer or accessing something online, most likely it was paid for from this funding,” she said.
School Board Candidate Rick Mooday asked if the tax rate had been at 3.246 percent for a couple of iterations or if there was there consideration of raising or lowering it. Guy responded that the rate has been the same for the past several election cycles and there was no discussion about raising it.
“It will continue at the same rate. We’re just asking for the continuation of the current rate,” she said.
Asked if the money will be used to build the new Chamisa Elementary School building, Guy said actually it won’t be used for that purpose. “
The voters were very generous in Los Alamos County and passed a bond election that will support the construction or the Chamisa and Pinon schools. If we are able to continue this funding, this money will supplement some things at the building. I will give you an example from Barranca Mesa Elementary. While we were able to build a beautiful school at Barranca, they have dirt and there’s no grass, there’s not much playground equipment. They’re in desperate need of an upgrade to those things, so, we will be able to use this money to supplement some of the things that we wouldn’t have been able to do,” Guy said.
She said that while the District will build a nice school that will be operational, it won’t have any of the extra that students and parents depend on around the school and that our community relies on to make the facilities the best that they can be.
Asked if the money will be used to fence in the school areas, Guy said there are no plans right now to use that funding for fencing.
“We have safety money from the state. In the future if that were an issue and we needed to supplement funding, it’s something that we could take to the school board or our parent committees to discuss. Currently our fencing plans that we have were provided out of some state safety money,” Guy said.
Asked if the measure does not pass, will tax levels decrease Guy responded that taxes would decrease by the amount that taxpayers are currently being asked to continue paying.
“Our services and our ability to support students would also decrease. We would have less availability to provide students with the technologies and the facilities and the furniture and things that they need,” she said.