[Editor's Note: This forum took place on Nov. 28, 2017. However, the holidays and other issues prevented this author from writing the forum up for the Beat. This is part 2 and covers the education presentations.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The Grant County Prospectors held their annual Legislative Communications Forum on Nov. 28, 2017 at Western New Mexico University's Light Hall.
The recipients of the information from presenters were District 28 Senator Howie Morales, District 38 Representative Rebecca Dow, and District 39 Representative Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez. They also asked questions.
WNMU President Joseph Shepard presented first on education issues.
He noted the area has a strong delegation with Dow on the Education Committee and Morales and Martinez being members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, respectively.
"I appreciate your saying no more cuts to higher education," Shepard said. "We can't get to prosperity through cuts. We need economic development. We requested $5 million for infrastructure items, such as roofs. In our $3.6 million request, we recommend the continuation of Harlan Hall renovations and creating more social places on campus."
He cited the collaboration with the town of Silver City on College Parkway, where each is putting in $900,000 to create better curb appeal.
Shepard said the biggest need is compensation, as no one on the faculty and staff has had a raise in years.
Dow noted that when the Legislature appropriates, it is up to the grantee to determine how to spend it.
Shepard said with the 14 percent cuts the university has received it can't do raises. "Eighty percent of our budget is payroll, and we got caught with an increase in insurance premiums. We are healthy in reserves, with $5 million to $7 million for a rainy day. But that's one-time money. It's the recurring side that's hard."
Dow said 36 percent of lottery funding gets to students. Shepard said the university receives 60 percent of lottery funding per student.
Morales thanked the university for hosting interim committee meetings throughout the year. "They see the beautiful campus. For the GO (general obligation) bonds, I think we recommended $2.5 million for Western."
Shepard recalled it as $3.6 million. "Once we get into Harlan Hall, it becomes counterproductive to do it in small pieces, especially if the roof is the probable priority. If we get up to $4 million, it helps. It's one-time money, if we go beyond the GO to severance."
Morales asked about the university's status as a Liberal Arts University and what it allowed. Shepard said nearly every state has one. Arizona has none and Colorado has Fort Lewis.
"It gives the students a sense of purpose," Shepard said. "They will be able to think critically beyond their content degree. To work at Amazon or Facebook, you don't necessarily need a degree."
He said the GO bond is important, as well as "holding us constant on operating funds and employment compensation."
Martinez noted that the former normal schools dedicated to education, of which Western was once one, have evolved to full universities. He was sorry that some of the other campuses under Western had to close.
Shepard said thanks to Dow, the Truth or Consequences campus learning center still has a computer center.
Martinez said there may be times when veterans have needs in Deming or Lordsburg, but they no longer have campuses.
"We haven't done a good job for veterans with PTSD and it's tough on families when they are deployed," Shepard agreed. "They have trouble fitting back in when they return. We need to develop, as higher education, to provide the services direly needed."
Martinez asked for a center for veterans, and Shepard said the university needs to look at such a center, because veterans have a camaraderie among themselves.
Morales asked about not being competitive in pay. Shepard said the university would need at least $400,000 to become competitive.
Next to speak were Ross White, Tim Stillman and Jason Collet (director of the department of information technology), representing WNMU student government.
"We are requesting the same thing as last year—a virtualized application we need for the computer system," White said. "Forty-eight percent of our students are online. Our goal is to get more students. But students can't get access to our computer system, if they are not on campus. Technology is advancing, so the best way to do it is through this system. It would cost about $255,000."
Collet said: "There has been quite a bit of discussion among CIOs about how the state provides funding. It comes down to the haves or the have nots. STEM is only available at campus labs. If you don't have a powerful enough computer this virtualized system is the best leg up."
Morales asked about the $500,000 allocated two years ago to safety poles that were never installed. "Can that money be used for this technology?"
Shepard replied that the safety issues had moved to cell phones. Stillman said the funding had been used for security systems throughout the campus and call boxes, with only about $15,000 remaining to be encumbered by the end of December (2017).
"If you go down I-25, you have technology," Shepard said. "For us to get the same technology, it costs us three or four times more. If you don't have a laptop, this software would be in the cloud."
Dow asked if the software were installed if it would reach everyone.
"Yes, Collet replied. "It's doesn't matter if you're in Tokyo on an Apple or in Peru on a Dell, even on an iPad, you could have it streamed."
Shepard said one out of two WNMU students is online. "This will resolve the inability to access the software they need."
Collet said: "We could put 15 concurrent licenses online. There is a great wealth of potential. At-risk students can access it. It would help retention."
Shepard agreed and said that he teaches developmental math. "I know students that came to campus and sat in their cars to get access to the software they needed."
He said the administration works well with students, and if WNMU gets the funding, the students have agreed to pick up the recurring costs of about $50,000 to $70,000 annually, according to Collet.
Martinez said he has seen the technology in other counties. "Their education system is progressive with the tools they are given."
Executive Director Shannon Rivera, Charlene Gomez and Cindy Manos spoke on behalf of WNMU Early Childhood Education.
Rivera said the program asks for $275,000 in continued funding. "Our goal is to have an accredited lab site to study children, while educating them. We support university students, so they know their child is well taken care of."
She noted the program's funding has been cut significantly. "The funding supports the retention of students working on degrees. It supports highly qualified educators to provide high quality care and education to our children."
"One component that is unique to our center is the Family Counseling Center," Rivera said. "It supports the parents; it supports play therapy and addresses the emotional well-being of the children and families. Our program offers certificates, associate's degrees and bachelor degrees in early childhood education. Our certificates are accredited nationally. We are the first to receive accreditation for our certificates' program."
Dow said childcare is critical not only for the work force but for parents, so they can go to work and school. "You'll always have an advocate in me, knowing it has a two-generation impact for parents and children. Do you have students in your online courses from outside the region?"
"We have students from all over New Mexico, from Arizona, Colorado and China and also from El Paso, Texas," Rivera replied.
Dow asked if the program supports dual enrollment. Rivera said it does, with students coming from Deming to complete their four core classes. "We also are communicating with Silver and Cobre schools to get the classes set up for the dual enrollment."
"How are you managing to make dual enrollment viable?" Dow asked.
Shepard said the university has struggled. "The Higher Ed Commission has made things more stringent, so that teachers who were qualified no longer are and can't teach the courses. We are in the process of clarifying it. It involves rural communities. They need 18 graduate hours of early childhood education, even if they are teaching at the high school level. It has created a dilemma for us."
Rivera said: "Around the state, we are trying to find teachers, but they can't work without a license, even if they are working toward one."
Morales said the program prepares kids well. "The pendulum is swinging. Early childhood is only 1 percent to 2 percent funded. Elementary is at 40 percent and higher ed at 14 percent. Hang on to your programs. The funding will come."
"This year, we received $195,000," Rivera said. "We continue to do more with less. We asked for $275,000. It is a fragmented process to get grants. We are a product of the way things are set up in the state. We have to think of a way to streamline funding. If there were grant opportunities we would fare well, because we have the best program in the state."
Morales said he hopes this year will bring an Early Education Department to the state government, "so early childhood education is not an afterthought."
Martinez commended the group on their program. " It needs to be recognized across the state. You are taking care of the most vulnerable from birth to when they are in the public schools. It's one major step toward being successful in life."
Silver Consolidated Schools Superintendent Audie Brown and IT Director Ben Potts presented for the schools.
Potts said he would talk about the northern fiber ring and the data center. "We have the existing Silver Consolidated School District fiber ring, which supplies internet to 56 percent of the students and to 60 percent of the staff. It's 20 years old. It has single points of failure. If one site goes down it could take down phones and the internet."
Because there is no one local who can fix fiber it can take a month to get a pole repaired. "If we make a ring, if one pole is hit or a fire is in a facility, it would reroute all the data seamlessly. The administration building was built in the 1960s to 1970s. It was never designed to hold a data system. We would like to move the data center. We are asking for $150,000 and we are working with Silver City and the county to aggregate services."
Morales said the schools had received $100,000 in capital outlay and asked if anything would hinder the schools getting more. He also asked if there were other opportunities for funding.
Potts said he knew of nothing to hinder more capital outlay. "The project can be phased. We have set aside $10,000 out of the bond issue, and we have always set aside $20,000 to keep for repairs, so $50,000 would come from the district and we will ask for the E-rate. We can't fully fund with other funding. We want the correct type of fiber to last at least 25 years. Last year, we paid $144,000 for the southern ring."
Morales asked about the level of student enrollment.
"Last year, we had 2,730," Brown said. "This year, we have 2,580. That costs us about $1 million."
Martinez asked about the costs for aerial and for buried fiber.
Potts said it most cases it is better to have it buried. Aerial can be used on school owned property where it is less vulnerable. "If we have it buried, it will have conduit, and we pass multiple state and local agencies and we can work together on it. If we had conduit, we could let them use it."
To Dow's question about E-rate, Potts said only public schools and libraries can use it in New Mexico. "E-rate can pay for six-strand fiber, but we can pay for 24-strand fiber at a minimal difference in cost."
Morales asked the schools to make sure the capital outlay form is current and to have the project on the master plan, so it can't be weeded out.
He commended Brown for the history project that Mr. Thompson and Mr. Wilson do with the students. "The presented in Santa Fe, and they really shined at the committee. I want to tell you how impressive they were."
"We have many, many more positives than negatives happening in the district, which are, for some reason, being highlighted in the media " Brown said.
Cobre Schools Associate Superintendent José Carrillo, Superintendent Robert Mendoza and Deputy Superintendent George Peru presented for their school district.
Mendoza said: "The security and upgrades at San Lorenzo, Hurley and Central Elementary are finished. The activity bus you approved is on order and should be received in February. Cobre was hit with a clawback of $160,000. I want to compliment our staff, who managed to be frugal."
"We are coming to this committee with a request for an additional $80,000 to replace some of our aging fleet," he continued. "We can finance with that much two nine-passenger vehicles at $30,000 each and one sedan."
Peru noted that the district's youngest vehicle is a 2008 model with 130,000 miles on it. The vehicles are for students and staff.
Morales asked about the enrollment numbers, which Mendoza reported are down 30 students, which will cost the district about a quarter of a million dollars. "We were cut $400,000 to $425,000. We were able to keep all staff, but had to back up to 13 units. Everybody pitched in to keep services."
Peru pointed out that the high school was built in 1953.
"We have to see where we are in the priority list to replace the building," Morales said.
Peru said they had a recommendation to repair the roof and that knocked them down in the rankings. "Our basketball floor is from 1953, and last time we had it fixed, we were told they wouldn't be able to do it again. We need to get on the list to get a new high school."
Mendoza said voters approved a bond issue, which will take care of the gym floor, as well as the football and baseball field and the ancillary gym for volleyball and basketball. San Lorenzo needs a new water well and Central will get a gym.
"I sit on the committee that can help you," Morales said.
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, said perhaps Casas Adobes could help with a new well, but Peru said there is not enough water on that side of Casas Adobes.
Dow asked if the switch to four-day week had brought transfers out of the schools.
Mendoza said two teachers had come to Cobre from Silver, and Carrillo reported several students came from Deming.
Dow asked what the benefits are. Mendoza said he was opposed to it, but when the school went out to the community, 90 percent approved of it.
"It's a cost savings, too," Peru said. "The biggest issue before was absences. This wasn't a sudden decision. It had been in process for three or three-and-a-half years. We had buy-in from the community."
To fulfill the required number of teaching hours, each day was extended.
Carrillo said the requirement for Pre-K is 1,036 hours. "We are about four to five days above the requirement. For teachers and staff, it is positive. The savings for September and October were about $40,000 to $50,000. We also have a savings in substitutes. We are hoping it will help the kids having the teachers in the class room, instead of substitutes. We are reviewing it on an annual basis."
Dow asked if cooks, bus drivers or any other staff saw salary losses. Mendoza replied that the cooks have to supply snacks for kids to take home for Friday and the weekends, so they saw very little loss."
Martinez asked if any teachers had moved on. Mendoza said some eligible for retirement actually stayed. Those that left were mostly due to spousal relocation.
Martinez said he was glad to know that snacks were being provided to the students for the weekends.
The next article will cover healthcare presentations.