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Prospectors' Annual Legislative Information forum, 120913, Part 2

Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on the Prospectors' forum, which was held on Dec. 9. Then the holidays happened, and the rest of the articles did not get written.

The next group of speakers represented the public schools, with Cobre Consolidated Schools being first on the list.

"We're looking at construction of Bayard Elementary to be complete by July 2014," George Peru, facilities manager, said. "To make the gym larger, we are not able to bond. One inspector wants us to upgrade all systems. We need $400,000 to complete the gym. Our gymnasiums are open to the community. We were able to bond $10.8 million for Bayard Elementary."

Robert Mendoza, superintendent, reported that at a December state superintendents' meeting, "all reported they are hurting trying to recruit first-year teachers. We are competing with El Paso schools and Arizona schools, which pay more. The pay in Texas is $22,000 to $45,000, and they are not tiered like we are."

"We have a big gap in starting pay," Mendoza said. "Please consider looking at recruitment, because we can't compete and retain teachers."

Assistant Superintendent José Carrillo said he would address the technology aspects.

"School assessments are done by computer," Carrillo said. "Students will begin doing practice tests on the computer. I'm not sure how it will work. We have not had all students testing at the same time. We've not gotten upgrades, and switches will have to be changed, with two or three per school at $40,000 per switch for 30-60 computers.

"Over 100 are enrolled in each grade, so we will have to double the hardware," he continued. "We put in $5.2 million, as part of a request but we haven't received the funding or even know how much we will receive."

Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez asked: "On the needs of the number of computers, has the assessment of the number of computers been completed?"

Carrillo explained that the schools needed to expand enough so that each grade level could assess at the same time. "We may have to separate students, so they can't compare notes. The computers we have now are ready."

"Will the computers be compatible with the assessment tests?" Martinez asked.

"We need to upgrade most of the labs in the next one to two years," Carrillo replied. "They will stand for this year."

Mendoza pointed out that often in the Mimbres Valley the system was down. "We may have to bus them to Bayard."

Sen Howie Morales asked if the $400,000 hit would be against the school's funding?

"Yes, it will be taken away," Peru said. "I think it will affect us on the back end, and it will affect us on future projects. That's why we may have to go to the council."

"I want to bump up the starting teacher salary, while keeping the other educators in mind," Morales said. "I'm going to recommend a 3-5 percent increase for state employees.

"It's not your fault you are spending millions for testing," he continued. "I would rather have that money go to the classrooms. It puts you in a tough situation."

Peru concurred and said it would affect all areas of the state.

"We have to move forward," Carrillo said. "We made the decision to go to computers this year to make sure we are ready for the requirement for next year. We are trying to stay in compliance."

Silver Consolidated Schools Lou Streib, superintendent said: "The system impacts us with matching funds. If grants could require fewer dollars for matching, it would allow us more projects.  Plus we have vendors' expenses to bid out projects. In process at Silver, we are completely redoing the infrastructure.

"Please look at the formula to allow us to allocate money where we need it," Streib requested. "If we could take textbook funding for technology, it would help. Most books are online now."

"With all the testing coming up, our infrastructure was last updated in 2006," Ben Potts pointed out. "The state is asking for five students to one computer, and we have 3,000 students.  We are meeting all requirements.

"There are 82,000 computers in schools statewide," Potts said. "About 40,000 of them are using Windows XP, which goes out in April. Right now, it looks like we're ready, but, in April, those computers will be out of compliance.

"There is not really any funding set aside for technology for education," he continued. "We get reimbursed 78 percent for computer access and telephone. If you are at 90 percent, you can ask the federal government for funding."

About $140,000 was spent on infrastructure, instead of technology for students or teachers, he said. "We are exploring grants, and trying to move money back into the classrooms.

Rep. Dianne Hamilton commented that the money goes for infrastructure instead of where it's needed. "We patch until we replace."

"Are teachers here as disgruntled about the evaluation process, as those I spoke to at a meeting in Las Cruces?" Hamilton asked.

Streib said in Silver schools, "we are there to help, not to hinder. It is not us against them."

"In Las Cruces, I had teachers come to me telling me there is too much to do in too short of a time," Hamilton reported. "For the teachers, it was a great concern."

Streib concurred that it was a concern "for us, too."

Morales asked if the appropriation would go through the legislators or through the PED?

"Through the PED," Streib replied.

"Will it be a priority for the superintendents?" Morales asked and Streib replied that it is a priority.

"I will be happy to carry the bill," Morales said.

The next section will begin the local government presentations.

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