At the beginning of the annual Prospectors Legislative Information forum, Prospectors member Kim Clark recognized the Prospectors in the audience.
"I would also like to recognize our sponsors: The Democratic and Republican parties; Western New Mexico University; Gila Regional Medical Center and Southwest Bone & Joint," Clark said.
She announced the group's our annual trip during the legislative session. The group will be in Santa Fe from Jan. 28-31, Jan. 29 s Grant County Day.
Prospector Cynthia Bettison served as timer. Each presentation had a limit of eight minutes and four minutes for the questions and answers.
"How quickly a year goes by," Sen. Howie Morales said. "This is probably the most important meeting of the year. We will go into the legislative session and will have the information to defend requests. The Finance Committee is meeting today in Santa Fe.
"In 2009 we had a shortfall. I am curious to see what this year's surplus will be. The budget, at $6 billion, is almost to the 2008 level," he continued. "We expect other issues in addition to the budget, such as the roll out of Centennial Care health care. Education is another topic. I think jobs will be brought forward. Infrastructure needs will have water at the top, with roads another one.
"I'm thankful for all of you, and the notebooks you put together are extremely helpful for the session, Colonias, capital outlay and all the funding that comes into the area," Morales concluded.
"It will be an interesting session," Rep. Dianne Hamilton said.
"A lot of bills are being requested to be put on the governor's call.
"I was talking to former Rep. Murray Ryan, and he said, that in 1969, the No. 1 problem was education," she said. "In 2013, it's still education. We've tried so many things. Sometimes, I think if we just gave the funding to the principals and superintendents and let them alone, and if we get rid of the federal Education Department, it would work best. I will be asking for money for the PTSD program."
"This forum and our notebooks are one of our most important tools," Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez said. "Other communities are trying to model similar efforts. It's an exceptional job that Prospectors do.
I" have just returned from Washington, D.C., where I serve on the national conference of state legislators on education," he continued. "We did an analysis. We expect 1½ percent growth in 2014, with New Mexico a little higher. New Mexico is on target for sales tax and corporate taxes. In General Fund spending, we are expecting about a 4 percent increase.
The Appropriations Committee is already working on the budget," Martinez said. "We will continue to work on it, starting Jan. 13. It all depends on where the revenues sit. Education, health care and infrastructure are top priorities. We will be busy seeing what bills we can push forward. Thank you for the forum. It's always good to know the community's needs."
First on the agenda were the education presentations.
Clark thanked Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard for the use of the Besse-Forward Global Resource Center Auditorium for the forum.
Shepard said he was impressed by the way Prospectors advocate for the area.
"We will ask for $2 million to continue to Phase III of the Light Hall project," Shepard said. "It was built in 1927. We want to replace the HVAC, replace the carpet and get rid of the pencil sharpeners.
"We are asking for $6 million for Harlan Hall, our STEMH building," he continued. "It was constructed in the 1960s. We want to renovate and modernize it into a modern science building.
"Our request for $3.792 million for the Museum will continue the money already received for planning the security for the building," Shepard said. "We want to put in HVAC for climate control, put in more security and a fire alarm. The NAN Ranch Collection makes the facility a top-notch museum.
He reported the governor has recommended $1.792 million for the museum and Light Hall, but not Harlan Hall.
"We're supportive of the 2012 new funding formula," Shepard said. "But given the timing, here's something that occurred. We should have been funded for a master's in social work and another in occupational therapy, which were $1.4 million underfunded. The formula took 2010 as the base, and we were $26,000 underfunded for coding, so social work was wrongly coded. WNMU was uniquely not funded. We also had a $480,000 cut in utilities. We have lost out on $4.8 million. One in five graduate students is not funded. One in four undergraduate students is not funded. I am asking for adjustments of $2.8 million or $1.7 million without the utilities."
To a question from Morales, Shepard said he wanted to try to get the appropriation on the finance side, but the starting point is in House Appropriations. "I'm not looking for back pay, but if you want to fund it, that's OK with us."
Morales asked how Shepard liked the three formulas to which Shepard said:
"We have to be cautious. One is for community colleges; one is for research institutions; and one for all. I think we can have one formula with different weights. NMSU President Carruthers is pushing for the sector specific. In both scenarios, we are blessed and cursed at the same time. We're successful because we have research and the community college aspects. The worry is that UNM will begin to dominate. It depends on the way it is structured."
Hamilton asked if the new funding formula were a detriment or a benefit.
"I think we are benefitting to some extent," Shepard replied. "But we have a low graduation rate for 6-year graduation at only 20 percent. From the mine, they come to take courses and then go back to work. That does not benefit us. It's not a perfect formula, but it's in the right direction.
Hamilton asked about other institutions and the transferring of credits.
Shepard said they were working better. "We are working on a common nursing program across the state. We have seen an increase in transfers. Both ways it's working better. Western has no business being in engineering. Tech does a great job, but we can prepare them for engineering."
Martinez asked if typical student graduates in an average of six years.
Shepard said 18 percent of Western's students graduate in six years. At UNM it is close to 50 percent and nationwide, it is 60 percent.
"Title IV funding requires a full time as 12 hours, which in the past would have graduation in four years," he explained. "But we have non-traditional students who work and go to school at the same time."
Martinez suggested more advisors to push them forward.
Shepard said: "The majority percentage of our students is over the age of 24. The six-year graduation requirement perhaps needs to be re-evaluated. Some transfer, so that works against us. Or, if they transfer in, neither counts toward our graduation rate. Maybe it should be redefined."
Martinez: asked if remedial courses count toward graduation.
Shepard said: "Yes, but what was 120 credit hours needed for graduation is more likely 128 hours. One in two of our classes is considered remedial. The seven to eight years to graduate counts against us."
The next presentation was by Melissa Busby, WNMU Early Childhood Program director, who said: "We receive $211,000 in a special appropriation. The Preschool Child Development Center serves 64 children, with 52 of them having a WNMU student as a parent, and four of them children of our staff members. The New Mexico pre-kindergarten program has 36 children. The Growing Tree infant/toddler program has 15, with nine of them having parents who are high school students. We have a waiting list of 136."
"We work with occupational therapy and human services," Busby continued. "The La Familia Training and Technical Assistance Program has four local venues, as well as in Doña Ana, Sierra and Lincoln counties.
"The most important thing is quality," she emphasized. "Quality matters for young children. Our lowest score is 96 percent and is over 100 percent in some area. It's how we help children succeed. Persistence rates continue at 79 percent. Most of the parents carry a bit higher course loads, with 12.44 hours versus the average WNMU student with 12.03. Most of the parents are in in bachelor's or master's degree programs.
"The appropriation helps support us, as we continue to be a model program. We are also impacted by cuts to the Children, Youth and Families Department as well as to the university.
"Thank you for being heroes to our program."
Hamilton commented that the former director Terry Anderson "kept us so well informed and so do you. We appreciate your job. When you're in Santa Fe, come to our offices and keep us informed."
Morales thanked Busby for her advocacy. "Can you confirm that you are requesting to stay at the same level of funding?" to which Busby answered: "Yes."
Morales remarked that $8 million from CYFD was reverted back to the state. The funds already appropriated should be expended. "We must keep CYFD on track. What is the role of CYFD with your program? It seems like it would be a benefit to you to be under an Early Childhood Education Department or under the Public Education Department. What are your recommendations?"
Busby explained there are two programs—CYFD and PED—for the pre-K. "Now we primarily get pre-K from CYFD. I think early childhood education development through them is working."
"It seems like monitoring and fulfillment is split," Morales said. "I know early childhood education is a huge topic, with 1 percent of the budget. One proposal is to tap into the Permanent Fund, but I don't think it will go through.
"Having a permanent source of funding would be beneficial," Busby said. "Right now, it comes from the university, CYFD and families. Having permanent funding brings stability.
"We are designing ways to improve quality," she continued. "Most young children are in day care or home-based care. Raising quality for all helps all of us. The LFC showed that only pre-K makes a difference, but we have to improve the quality of education for those ages one to three, not just at age 4.
"I want to make sure it’s a quality program, " Morales said, "and I want to promote for early childhood education."
Martinez said: "You mention you had 136 on the waiting list. Is there a way to request the reverted funds for facility and staffing?"
"I think it would be mostly facility.," busby replied. "We can serve only eight infants. Most of our needs are infant and toddler care, which are the most expensive, too, with a ratio of 1 staff member for four infants."
Associated Students of WNMU was represented by governmental affairs director Frida Gonzales.
"Last year, we asked for $200,000 for technology updates in Wi-Fi and broadband," she said. "There has been a huge change. We can move between buildings with continuity.
"One of our projects is Smart Classrooms, which involves interactive projects and lecture capture, as well as video conferencing, with a tech station and documentary camera," she continued. "We are asking for $600,000 for the tech upgrade of 20 classrooms. Most of our students are non-traditional. They need the ability to have access to a classroom, not just to listen to a lecture, but also to see and hear discussions.
"This project has started with a couple around campus at the library," Gonzales said. "The IT Department is seeing an incredible way of professor/student interaction. It's better for commuter students. Some professors have noted an increase in student performance. They have to see and hear to benefit.
The recreation center is another project, which would provide increased functionality of the pool to incorporate it into the classroom. "We want to add a new weight room, add a basketball court and a sand volleyball court. We are asking for $1 million to renovate the pool and recreation center we already have."
Morales asked if the $600,000 for classrooms would be in Light Hall.
Shepard replied that Light Hall would come out of the $2 million the university already has. The other funding would be over the rest of the campus.
"It would augment what the students are putting in," Shepard said. "For the recreation center we would keep two 25-meter lanes and make room for weight equipment. The basketball court and sand volleyball courts would be outside. They have also requested a portable stage. Yes, we can phase it in. A half million dollars a year would work."
Morales said because if comes from the severance fund, so he thought it would be doable.
Martinez noted he recreational interest is by the students and the community and asked if it would be open to the community.
"Yes, it would be open to the community," Gonzales said, but Shepard qualified the comment by saying: "Yes, but because it would be state money, it wouldn't be free. There would be memberships. We're also open to a recreational therapy program. There is none in the state."