[Editor's Note: The Beat was able to attend only the morning session. This is a report on it.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
Presenters to the Legislative Education Study Committee in the morning of Sept. 25, 2019 included Silver Consolidated Schools Associate Superintendent Curtis Clough, Cobre Consolidated Schools Associate Superintendent Jose Carrillo and Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools Superintendent Randall Piper.
Clough led off the presentations. "This is an exciting time in Grant County. This is my second year here as associate superintendent. I'm having a great time with Superintendent Audie Brown meeting the needs of the community."
He cited one of the recent challenges as declining enrollment, although in 2019, it has stabilized in the low 3,500 student range. This year's budget is $24.4 million.
"The district is very appreciative of the teacher raises, which have brought morale up," Clough continued. "Last year, we piloted a Pre-K program and had 75 students at the end of the school year. We are working with El Grito Headstart and the Montessori School, as well as the town of Silver City. We are pursuing opportunities including acquisition of land, because of growth of the Pre-K program. We had 100 kindergartners come in this year. We have received Career and Technical Education funding and want to pursue cybersecurity, community health care and computer technical assistant pathways. It gives us three new pathways for graduates of Silver High School to be employed. For instance, in community health care, we are working on certified nurse assistant and technicians in conjunction with Western New Mexico University. It gives the students a chance to experiment with what they want to do and make mistakes before they get to college."
He said last year, the Silver Schools administration got the community involved in a Community Dialogue, including businesspeople, educators, and others with interest in the schools to tell the schools what they needed. "We held four meetings last year and had great participation, so we were able to pinpoint opportunities to keep working on. We also created a Grant County Workforce Alliance. As part of the Community Dialogue, with funding, we are holding family support evenings. We are working with partners in mental health and law enforcement, among others. We implemented the Sandy Hook app."
Clough noted that even though the pay raise was granted, "we still have huge insurance increases. We want to keep the teachers here without putting their raises toward insurance. Due to changes in the retirement rules by the ERB (Educational Retirement Board), we lost 30 percent of our substitutes and activity drivers."
"We were set to go with the K-5 Plus program, but rules changed things, so we are only able to host in one place," Clough said. "It's hard to get staff."
He also noted that the timing of funding and the return on reimbursements have caused some cash flow problems. "If we can get it earlier or carry it over from the previous year, it would help. We also have a limited capacity for pre-K. That's why we are leveraging resources together. We are asking to retrofit a 50-to-60-year-old building, but the rules are difficult to deal with. We still have issues with parking. But we did get rave reviews on our Pre-K program from PED.
"We appreciated the allotment," Clough said. "We used the $180,000 allotment, plus a $200,000 carryover and used $200,000 in the operating budget."
He discussed the confusion and issues with getting certifications for students. "I argue that the math and science requirements for welding are equal to other science and math programs."
Clough also noted the process of quantitative and qualitative analyses. "They are not all aligned with the state. We ask for flexibility in local areas. We want to address needs, while still accessing funding. We are doing grades 5-12 career exploration. We want to align to certify or transition to an apprenticeship or to college. We had a four-time state champion automotive and welding student walk off the graduation stage with four job offers. But he wanted to stay in Silver City and start his own art welding business, too."
He said the Freeport McMoRan Community Investment Fund supported a media lab at La Plata Middle School, where the meeting was being held. "We are using it to teach multi-media. We are also working with New Mexico State University for a Fab Lab, so we can gear facilities to industry standards. Thanks to the NexGen funding. We have a tech department of four people. Ben Potts, who is in charge of tech, wants us to create our own technicians. So, we want to provide techs, and we want to keep them here working from home and here. Middle School can do cybersecurity. We are also working on a fire management and fire science program, working with the Forest Service and WNMU. We have a wilderness responder program and our culinary arts program will cater your lunch. We need entry points for our teens. It's very important and we're looking at hospitality and tourism. Our next steps are community radio, putting in a radio and TV station at the high school It's a year-long process to create the 11-member Community Workforce Alliance. We are working on determining one central place for people to get workforce skills, whether they are 8 or 80. We're planning for the unknown future."
Carrillo said he wanted to focus on the budget, at-risk funding, pre-K and K-5 Plus. He introduced Teresa Holguin, Cobre finance director.
"We have budget challenges," Holguin said. "We appreciate the increases, with the teachers up and the administrators up, also. Although we lost the New Mexico Reads program, we will incorporate coaches to continue the program. Direct services discontinued the grant. Math interventionists went back into the classrooms. With the budget as a whole, we are able to maintain services, but when you raise salaries, it raises insurance. We have the same challenges as Silver with the substitutes and activity drivers. We are still seeing a tight budget."
Carrillo said Cobre has 101 students in Pre-K, with 40 percent being the 3-year-olds and 60 percent 4-year-olds. "The challenge is the facilities. When the funding was with PED, we built four classrooms at Central Elementary. For years, we have collaborated with Headstart, because no other provider was providing pre-K. We had kids coming into kindergarten, but only 20 percent had pre-K experience. The district decided to go full-day Pre-K with half-day funding. The kids are being bussed, except for San Lorenzo Elementary. We opened pre-K at other schools and expanded them to San Lorenzo, Bayard and Hurley. In the 3-year-old group, we have four to eight that are developmentally delayed and 12 to 14 in the 4-year-old group. In regards to the K-5 Plus, we have K-6 Plus, because we are supplementing to include the 246 sixth-grade students. Thirty-one percent of our elementary students are in the extended program. We were using Title 1 funds. We had a theme based on science. This year, it is STEAM. It will include a family involvement center with student presentations. Students have to attend at least 10 days and be present on Day 17, but many had valid excuses. They have to stay with their same teacher, which is a challenge. Ninety percent stay with their students, but it's an extension of the school year. For them it is a 25-day requirement. We have a four-day week and could meet the hourly requirement, but the 25 days hurt the program. We have to convey the important of extended programs."
One of the teachers spoke and said she was from Snell Middle School. "We had funding for drones. We did drone training by a professional drone user. It provided the students the opportunity to study careers that used drones. My part was developing the curriculum. We focused on wildlife biology and did population counts with a simulated reptile biosystem. The next career we explored was search and rescue, finding the lost person again through simulation. The third career was ranching, counting sheep and finding broken fences."
She said the district was trying to develop video editing using the video from drones.
A woman from Cobre said the career awareness problem took students to the mine, to the airfield and to the forest to see real jobs and let the students meet people with these jobs in Grant County. "We worked with an all-girl team. The drone crashed and broke the propeller. One of the girls said they would have to get Mr. Salcido, because he was a man and he could fix it. But we had the tools and the girls fixed it themselves and were empowered."
A man said he has been a professor at Texas Tech and NMSU. "The first year I was retired, I got tired of retirement, and the school needed a science teacher and I shot up my hand. I'm a first-year teacher, but a 30-year pilot. Now I'm introducing drone technology to students who were unable to participate in the previous program. Careers with drones are available in physics and aviation. We need these young people to fill pilot positions. WNMU has a drone technical curriculum. I'm in grad school again, learning so that I can teach kids. I'm working with Western on dual enrollment. These students are interested and want to log hours to get their certificates. My prep period is now drone class. It's a neat thing. Four groups of students want to do drone videos. They want a hangar and a beat-up old aircraft to learn the tech and mechanics of airplanes."
Carrillo said: "We can see a lot of successes and we want to continue them.
Piper said he started his career in education and is still at it. "We were the 2019 state 3A basketball champions, and fourth nationally with our academic team."
He said the district in Truth or Consequences has a 3 percent increase in the number of students this year. "We are going up for bonding in November. It will be a challenge. We are still looking at policies and have a $25 million budget. We see some signs we're headed in the right direction. We had a concern about the 20 percent raise for principals, as it wasn't equitable for all staff."
He said the change in ability to prosecute and hold parents accountable for their students' absences went away in the new law. "We need it back in. For extended learning, the union makes it difficult. Administratively, we are in favor of it, but it needs to be put in the requirements. The union has all the staff, but not all the negotiating team members are educators. With K-5Plus, we have challenges with transportation. It's 60 miles to Winston and 31 to Hillsboro, and there's Monticello and Elephant Butte. We can't make the bus routes with only $49 per student. Parents say they will send their students, but they didn't, so in 2019, we didn't do the program. One elementary in Arrey started its school year July 7 or 8. They go for nine weeks and are off three weeks. For K-5, it's a 4-day week. One of our largest challenges is IDEA and special education. We have to provide for them during the school year. My Pre-K budget is slim for 2½ teachers and 2½ aides. We spend $1.5 million on special education. We have to meet the needs, but it causes challenges for the K-5 Plus program. We are retaining staff, but we had to let a social worker go. We will look at job fairs for social workers. We appreciate the one-time allocation for the e-rate funding for textbooks. If we can include Pre-K in the funding, so it doesn't affect anything else, it would help. It would save districts here on out. We have the same challenges with substitutes as has been previously mentioned for Silver and Cobre. We had $130,000 last year for substitutes and assistants. Undifferentiated leave is a struggle. Our best substitutes are retired teachers, but this law says no more than five days a month. The expense on the districts takes our money we had for other things."
The class time allocation leaves too much downtime for students, he alleged. "We added four days of professional development at the beginning of the year for new staff on the inherited calendar. We upped it to six days to make sure we have quality teachers. The summer program got great feedback and captured kids' hearts. It's a great district, with great staff."
He said he would like to know the legislative priorities. "We're not able to participate in K-5 Plus, so we need flexibility. A lot of the time for the special-education students, the schools are respite care."
Rep. Rebecca Dow asked Carrillo and Clough the role of the Freeport funding.
"We used $11,000 for drones," Carrillo said. Clough said it was used for the middle school media lab and planning and design.
Dow asked about the instructional allotment.
Clough asked that it be separate from the student allotment, so "it's easier to plan." Carrillo and Piper chimed in with their agreement.
Dow asked what changes would help the substitutes' and activity drivers' issue.
"The challenge is the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board," Piper said. "I'm not sure the Legislature can control that."
Clough said, because of the requirements, the law enforcement officers they hired to be school security, had to quit because they would have had to pay a penalty for working right after retirement. "It's been a real rush for us to get security officers. It would be more beneficial if they had to sit out only six months instead of a year or having a transition of some sort. We actively recruited substitutes from July 1."
Rep. Tomás Salazar said he carried HB 360, which originally started as SB 14, as an agency bill. "The ERB has to meet its requirements. The ERB and executive director had to deal with a number of significant challenges. They have large unfunded liabilities, which put the state on the hook for them. The changes were made to address them. What happened with ERB, we have to come up with some possibilities. We required the ERB and PER to deal with their unfunded liabilities. I understand your situation. I think at this point in time, we have to be cautious on changing the pension plans."
Down asked if Silver Schools had issues with a qualified work force for the Pre-K program.
"There will be more demand than we have qualified teachers for in New Mexico," Clough said, "especially in special education. Maybe we need a transition. That's why we are partnering with Western and with Silver City. Shannon Rivera left Western. Two of our instructional assistants are going through training. Shannon was helping us and now she's gone."
Dow said she thinks there is outstanding federal funding for career and tech programs.
"The Community Workforce Alliance is trying to create a model for rural New Mexico and replicated it to meet rural needs," Clough said. "We are trying to leverage federal, state and local funding for workforce development. We are trying to be eligible for USDA funding. Schools cannot necessarily apply for USDA funding, but the alliance can apply for I-6 and I-9 grants. We have players at the table to apply. We may hire an executive director and grant writer. We're working with Better Cities out of Utah, along with Silver City, which is helping us navigate funding opportunities. We're trying to look at the return on investment. We want sustainable funding. Silver City has funding for Better Cities with Freeport funding."
Sen. Mimi Stewart said it was exciting to hear what the superintendents were talking about, especially the extended learning, CTE (career and technical education) and the drone training, as well as the possibilities of dual enrollment. "I see your creativity. In my general comments, I would like to say I think we made a mistake with the ERB and the substitute situation. I'm agreeing with the recommendations. I think retirement is for retirement, not getting extra money. Let them just come back and teach. We want reliable funding to enhance teachers and law enforcement to be paid well. It doesn't make sense to retire and get full pay, and then go back to work. I think you should encourage substitutes to give up retirement and come back into the system. I want to undo the requirement for substitutes to have to pay into retirement. I think the supplemental educational grants should work. We tripled what we put in. I think it would be easy to fix with PED (Public Education Department)."
"In our communication with PED," Clough said. "We weren't told that. We got information under the old rules. How do we calculate old material? It was not communicated to us."
Stewart said it would take a while. "The LESC should make changes. Where there are career and technical education programs, we should lure people into teaching."
Clough said the schools weren't aware of Educators Rising until recently. "Now that it's on our radar, we are starting to put it in place."
He said the top two priorities for Silver Schools are teaching cybersecurity and community health care. "The next three are sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and education. We will get to the saturation point of what's needed. The career exploration piece is the most important. Once we get the programs established, getting students credentialed is critical."
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales stopped into the meeting to speak a few words.
"I welcome you to my hometown," Morales said. "I recognize local legislators Sen. Gabriel Ramos and Rep. Dow. Not here is Rep. (Rodolpho "Rudy") Martinez and Sen. John Arthur Smith. I extend my commitment to the legislators to be a collaborative partner this year."
Stewart brought up the issue of certificates and math classes to be part of graduation requirements. "I couldn't agree more. We need to look at the diploma requirements. We have a chance to expand the diploma requirements with the ideas you've given."
"I used to be the career and technical education director of Alaska," Clough said. "We need to look at students being career ready and college ready. 34 percent of Silver High School students go into 2-year or 4-year colleges. If we look at the CTE equivalent, we need to make sure the rigor is equal to or greater than for those headed to college. We need alternative demonstrations of competency to put students into viable careers. We need the transition of special ed students, so they can make their own careers. There has to be a pathway course to meet local or state needs and to make sure the rigor is there. Collaboration needs to be done right now in education. I don't buy the rural-urban divide. What we do in rural schools can be done in urban schools and modified to meet the needs of all students."
Stewart noted that Piper talked about more professional development. "What role do educators have in PED rules? It's all about compliance. Teachers need to be teaching the professional development. All of the evidence based on students, shows they are not doing well academically. That's why we extended the school year. Our students need a better understanding of reading, English and math."
Piper said his district has offered a day for professional development for teachers and also for assistants, in classroom management. That's one of the issues they face—classroom management."
Stewart said she has met with PED on issues around the K-5 Plus. "Evidence shows that students learn better if they are in school longer. I want you to be involved. Transportation is a sticky wicket. I wouldn't want my 1st-grader in a bus for two hours a day. I would like to give you money and let you experiment. We will work with you. Please don't throw K-5 Plus out."
Clough said he would appreciate the legislators thinking about a 10-day boot camp for full-time employees. "Give us the funding, and let us use it for secondary, too. Now is the time for experimentation. We're already holding discussions on this topic. Thanks for working with us."
Stewart discussed the principal salaries. "We can't get principals out of teachers, if we don't pay them more for more responsibility and more hours. I think it's good to give principals more. We need the ability for teachers to become principals.
Sen. Gabriel Ramos commended the superintendents for getting things done —great things. "What about Cliff schools?"
"We have the exact same programs at Cliff, except for automotive," Clough replied. "But we have cybersecurity, community health care and computer tech. The key part of our discussion at this point is on forestry. We have had a conversation to use the multi-media lab, and create a mobile lab, to make high schools look like community colleges. And we still have almost as many opportunities."
Ramos asked Carrillo about the four-day week. "What are you doing on Friday?"
Carrillo said this is the third year for Cobre to be on the four-day week. "We have opened up the schools for different programs, such as tutoring. The students work with drones. Opening up the schools on Fridays has offered us opportunities."
"What have you seen with the testing with the four-day week?" Ramos asked.
"The first year of four-day weeks, we anticipated a drop in scores," Carrillo said. "But we have made gains in the scores since then. We have professional development for the staff on 11 Fridays. We were already there. Teachers do appreciate the opportunity to have Fridays off."
Ramos noted that Cliff has been on a four-day week for years.
"Cliff continues to achieve higher test scores," Clough said. "The challenge is in connectivity to take the tests. We've noticed it is very similar to Cobre, but Cliff has been consistent with test scores."
Sen. William Soules said he was once a principal. "Your using drones is exciting. It shows innovation. For the CTE requirements we need businesses pulling as much as the schools are pushing."
Clough said the good news is that Freeport, Gila Regional Medical Center and Hidalgo Medical Services are all engaged in the process. "The reluctance of having small businesses participate is the requirement to participate. They may not have the resources necessary. We have six business partners in the Community Workforce Alliance, and they are all going full bore. Once they start to see the value; Once the programs draw money into the community, it will improve. It's an entire community deal. We have investment with the city and the county. They are providing for apprenticeships and interns. We have internships on Main Street. We have worked with Dr. Vicens at Western on entrepreneurship. A lot of kids want to start their own businesses. One of the six partners to pilot will have on-the-job experience. I have talked to Freeport to get commercial drivers' license certificates. If they aren't yet 18-years-old, who pays the insurance? We want to build this house. We can't do it without exposing them to real life jobs. Insurance is always in doubt."
"It seems like we could work on the insurance hurdle," Soules said.
Sen. Candace Gould said the insurance issue puts the state at great liability, so there are issues with having the state do it.
Soules said they should be able to work it out as a student worker. "We can't ignore than 60 percent of our kids aren't going to college. There is lots of talk about community schools, so they have wrap around. Is any district doing community schools?"
Piper said his district has applied for a planning grant for funding community schools.
Clough said Silver Schools will pilot a community school at Cliff. "We already have the mental health program in the schools."
Carrillo said Cobre didn't apply this year but anticipates applying next year. "We do some community school services already."
The morning session ended.