Editor's Note: This is the second of three articles on the Gila Economic Development Alliance Roundtable held Jan. 17 and will cover the second featured speaker.
Photo of Silver School Board President Trent Petty Courtesy of Sandy Feutz.
At Friday's Gila Economic Development Alliance Roundtable, the second featured speaker was Trent Petty, Silver School Board president.
"My wife and I have lived here 29 years, raised our kids here and now I'm school board president," Petty said. "I know something about the schools."
He said a large part of the state budget is in education, about $2.5 billion.
"We are one of the larger employers in Grant County, with more than 400," Petty said. "Cobre is about a third of our size.
"Everyone talks about the teachers, but no one talks about the janitors, the mechanical department or the IT department," he said. "We have quite varied groups of people working for us. "
He said the school's budget at about $25 million is about the same size as that of Silver City. "Eighty percent of it is paychecks and benefits."
"We have just over 3,000 students, and we're down 40 students this year," Petty continued. "We think they may have gone to Aldo Leopold, because it opened a junior high this year. Those 40 students are about a half million dollar loss to the district."
He said when schools start talking about cutting costs, they talk about cutting music programs or athletics. "Most of our budget is for teachers and facilities."
"I also want to talk about the vo-tech program many of us have been working on," Petty said. "We are gearing up. Right now, we have three graduations, the Opportunity High School, Silver High School and Cliff High School.
"We're upgrading the OHS, so it will be part of the SHS graduation," he said. "The program won't go away, because some will still need to catch up in credits, but we're going to put the vo-tech there. We're working with Cobre and Western (New Mexico University).
"Bub Graham, the former high school principal, is working on welding programs," he continued. "We're planning on also having building trades, certified nurse assistants and clerical office programs by next year.
"The problem is because we will be teaching applied math and sciences, the math teacher has to also be certified in applied math," Petty said.
He recently spoke to someone in Congressman Steve Pearce's office, who said they were developing "man camps" in Hobbs and Carlsbad. "He said they have jobs in both places, but no one to fill them, and no place to live. He told me our vo-tech would fit right in, "so I asked him what jobs we can develop, so the graduates go straight into jobs."
Petty said he was told that companies would bus those working at the jobs from Silver City or wherever to Hobbs and Carlsbad and house them for a week or so, then bus them back home for a number of days before taking them back to their jobs.
[Editor's Note: This has been common in the oil business for decades. The common term for those who work overseas is "28 and 28," because they work for a month at the job, then return home for a month before going back.]
"The benefit of this type of work is that they would bring their dollars back to Silver City," Petty said.
Sean Ormand, Gila EDA member, asked if the vo-tech would be part of OHS or separate.
"We will do away with OHS," Petty said, "Some students will still need to catch up, but the OHS facility will be the vo-tech school."
"I applaud you," Ormand said. "Vo-tech has been the missing piece for years.
"A quick little fact, what is the average salary at McDonald's in Silver City?" Ormand asked. "About $8? In Hobbs, the average salary at McDonald's is $15 and they can't fill the jobs. The average oil field salary is $55,000 with benefits.
"The pathway for me to get out of high school was vo-tech," Ormand said.
The representative from Congressman's Pearce's office told Petty that those coming out of high school or college in Hobbs and Carlsbad go into oil field jobs, and the municipalities are also in need of restaurant and retail workers.
"Can we use OHS to turn it into a vo-tech facility?" Petty asked. "The problem is with the state. If we change the facility and bring in 100 students from Cobre to Silver then we get the money. There is no way to split it between the schools by state law."
Earl Montoya, self-designated community watchdog, said he would like to reinforce vo-tech. "Hispanic organizations all over the country have linked vo-tech to the success of students getting into college. You have 3,000 students, the university has 3,700, but you at Silver are doing an efficient job."
Skip Thacker, Gila EDA member, asked about the impact of Common Core.
"We are operating as usual," Petty said. "You hear a lot of things, but the state of New Mexico has a list of books that are allowed to be read in any school in New Mexico. We have not had a big impact with Common Core here that I've seen. If you have a specific concern, I'll take it to (Superintendent Lon) Streib."
Dan Cook, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce board member and music teacher in Cliff, asked how Common Core applies to teachers. "All I see is more display of student work."
Jeremiah Garcia, Gila EDA board member and moderator of the meeting, asked if the schools were seeing a loss of the educational team.
"We haven't yet," Petty said. "Their concern is how much money they get. We get an amount from the state that is more than what beginning teachers are paid, but it keeps a good mix of the senior and new teachers paid.
"But overall in the nation, we're not looking so great, are we?" Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce executive director, asked.
"I hear someone say our schools are not good," Petty said, "but when we ask what do you know about it, they don't know anything. We always need to bring in new ideas and eyes, which is why we hired Streib. When he was superintendent in an Idaho school district, he brought the district up to No. 1 in the state. He did the same in Wyoming. We hired him from there.
"We would also love to see retirees with skills and information to impart to the students to work with us, even if it's just a work ethic," Petty said.
Scott Terry, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce executive director, said he had read an article by a senator who said if graduation rates are low, then standards should be lowered. "We need to combat that crap."
Cook said it would be better to lower class sizes.
"(Sen.) Howie (Morales) mentioned in a talk about the need to individualize teaching to the student," Petty said. "We all learn differently. We in the U.S. get beat up by Taiwan in comparing our schools. There everyone has to get a college degree after secondary school, but by junior high school, anyone who is not making the grade is out of school. Canada does a separate vo-tech track. That's why we don't look good on a worldwide scale."
Montoya asked and answered what the community could do to help the educational system. "The No. 1 answer I've read, but it's hard to do, is to get parents involved. Ask a father to give up four months of beer budget to buy his kids books. Parents are key to the educational system."
The next article will address brief presentations made by those present.