Editor's Note: This is part 4 of a multi-part series of articles on the Prospectors' Legislative Communication Forum, held Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Western New Mexico University's Light Hall. This article will cover several of the education presentations.
Bruce Ashburn, Prospectors president, served as the moderator in front of in front of Sen. Howie Morales, Rep. Dianne Hamilton and Rep. John Zimmerman.
"Now we have the Education Presentations, with Cobre Consolidated Schools going first," Ashburn said.
"We have requests for two projects," JosÃ© Carrillo, associate superintendent, said. "The first is for an activity bus. We recently had an incident where one of the water hoses broke on a bus and steam was coming out of the seams under the seats. It created panic.
"We have five activity busesâ€”one is 19 years old, three are more than 10 years old, and one was replaced last year," he continued
He said SB-9 funds are now being used for maintenance because the school district needs repairs on roofs, the gym floor, plumbing and electrical repairs. "We have concerns for safety."
"Many of our parents are fighting drug issues, which hang over our kids," Carrillo said. "The parents can barge into the buildings. Only one building has a secure entrance. That's Bayard Elementary. Central would take two doors to buzz people in. San Lorenzo and Hurley elementary schools would require walls and electronic doors.
Carrillo introduced Frank Ryan, business manager, who also oversees facilities.
"I see the need for safe buses," Zimmerman said.
Hamilton asked if the district contracts for buses.
"We own the activity buses and contract for daily transportation of students," Carrillo said.
"A bus would cost $185,000," Ryan said.
Morales asked if that was with the red-and-white paint job and fully equipped, because he thought a bus cost about $165,000.
"It's about $20,000 to $25,000 for the painting," Ryan said.
"I think in addition to safety, Deming buses had flip down screens," Morales said.
"It's an additional $9,000 for the entertainment system," Ryan said.
"Can you get a breakdown per school on the doors?" Morales asked.
Carrillo said the district would address the breakdown.
Morales noted that a recent injunction brings some relief to teachers. "The concern I hear is that teachers are leaving the profession."
"We see a lot of happy teachers," Carrillo said. "We are constantly in discussion with Western."
Zimmerman said someone had mentioned to him ROTC for the school.
"It has been put on the waiting list," Ryan said. "We were denied it but we are continuing to work on it. We have high recruitment through the National Guard."
Zimmerman said he would talk to Gen. Salas.
"I think our low enrollment was also a factor," Carrillo said.
Ashburn introduced Eric Ahner, Aldo Leopold Charter School director
"This is our seventh year," Ahner said. "We aren't asking for anything this year. I wanted to give you the general state of the school.
"The students and staff are happy," he said. "We have just begun the third cycle of five years for our charter. On a high stakes test, we got third in the state for the high school and 27th in the state for the middle school.
"That is hopefully a reflection on how we teach," Ahner continued. "We have little attrition in teachers. We stick to our charter mission.
"We're fiscally sound and have a $450,000 carry over, so we have money for a new facility," he said. "We are squeezed for space, so we cannot seek higher enrollment. We are capped at 120 for high school and 90 for middle school. If a student applies, he or she is accepted unless he or she had been expelled from another school.
"Experiential education is part of what we do," Ahner said. "Space is an issue. We have looked at options, but many would need too much to bring up to code. A new facility will be needed."
"Thank you for your leadership and stability," Morales said. "I've been in the school, and it's insightful on what is going on in the area, the state, the nation and the world."
"We think authorization for reauthorizing the school should be longer for good performing ones, like ours," Ahner said. "Longer cycles are critical.
"It's important to be accountable. There are two high components," he said. "If you take a small school and ask for more payments, it would be painful. The small school adjustment would have an impact, also on the state. Lease reimbursement, if off the table, would devastate us.
Morales asked who would own a new facility.
"We or the state would own it," Ahner replied. "The inability for us to bond would limit us. We have a $9.4 million estimate. We don't need a $9.4 million building. We don't need a gymnasium, for instance, so I think a new building would be far less. It would not be any different from a district facility."
"If the school doesn't survive, who has the ability to take over the building to protect taxpayer dollars?" Morales asked.
"Right now, we're putting $72,000 into a private owner's pocket," Ahner said.
Morales noted there might be a question about the schools's carryover. "Make sure you communicate to the state that you are a charter school and saving to pay for a new facility."
"I've never heard a word of criticism on the school," Hamilton said. "Are you under Silver Schools or the state?"
"Our first five years we were with Silver Schools, now we're with the state."
Ashburn introduced Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard.
"This year, we will have a general obligation bond opportunity," Shepard said. "We ask for support for $6.5 million on Grant County Day. Our request has been vetted with the Department of Higher Education.
"We have asked for $3 million for Harlan Hall," he continued. "We have already used $900,000 for the architect and design. We need new hoods, ADA bathrooms, and plumbing and electrical upgrades. With the other $3.5 million, we will continue with infrastructure development."
Shepard said Western has the highest level of deferred maintenance in the state. "We have aggressively pursued replacing lights, putting in irrigation, creating retention ponds, and exploring photovoltaic solar. We have severe issues with roofs, including Graham Gym."
"Our second area of interest is research, using public service funding," he said. "The governor has recommended a decrease for athletics. For us, athletics are important to bring us back to neutral.
"Student support is critical," Shepard said. "We are open access, with only a high school diploma or GED required for entrance. One out of every two students is remedial or older than the usual college student.
"The campus is looking beautiful," Hamilton said. "I remember the first time I brought Rep. Don Tripp to the campus. He said: 'Not much curb appeal.'"
"I appreciate the work and you keep us updated," Morales said. "I appreciate, too, your opening doors to the community. The student representatives last year did a great job advocating for safety."
"Higher Ed has authorized us for $300,000," Shepard said. "We have similar proposals in process for installing cameras. I appreciate your moment of silence earlier. You're only as safe as you are in the moment. The role of education is key for addressing society's ills."
"I also appreciate your having interim committee meetings here," Morales said. "What about the GO bond?"
"We have $26 million of deferred maintenance on this campus," Shepard replied. "I'm pleased to see the $6.5 million has been set aside as part of the GO bond. What Higher Ed is trying to do is have us complete projects within the time between general obligation bonds."
"It's nice to have support of Dona Irwin and John Arthur Smith," Morales said. "We'll keep an eye on it to protect the $6.5 million.
"I had a briefing on the funding formula," Zimmerman said. "There has been a lot of criticism of it."
"As far as Western goes, we've been relatively successful, although dual enrollment is one issue," Shepard said. "The biggest issue of contention has to do with the stopgap hold harmless. If you're underperforming, you will lose money.
"Western is successful, but I think there should be protection," he continued. "We need stability for parents and students. If you continue to underperform there should be consequences, but we need protection for the students."
"The major universities have everything from associate's degrees to bachelor's and doctorates," Zimmerman said. "The smaller ones give certificates. You have skin in the game that could be lost. Yes, the funding formula can be improved. I hear caution."
"We have to be careful of unintended consequences," Shepard said. "We provide education from the GED to master's degrees, but we have no access to community college funding. We have vulnerabilities different from other institutions."
"You seem to do well with limited funding," Zimmerman said.
"What will be the impact to Western of a lessening of some funding?" Morales asked.
"We will lose 5 percent from athletics," Shepard replied. "For us that is $93,000. We're switching conferences to the Lone Star Conference, which will reduce travel some. We are the outlier, with longer travel for either conference. Our head coach makes $57,000, while the median in the Lone Star is $110,000. Most of the schools in the conference have six assistant coaches. We have two that are paid."
"Athletic money comes from the state and student fees," he continued. "To make up for the loss, we must increase enrollment or student fees."
Morales noted this year the state gave Western a $110,000 increase.
"Yes, we got a 5 percent increase, almost what we will lose this year on athletics while we are rebranding."
"UNM got close to $1 million for branding," Zimmerman said. "If no one knows about it, it doesn't do us much good."
"We appreciate the partnership with Western New Mexico University and the use of Light Hall for this event," Ashburn said.
Ashburn said the next presentation would cover the collaboration between Western and the UNM School of Architecture.
"We wanted to give you an update on the collaboration between us and Western New Mexico University," Geraldine Forbes-Isais, Dean of the UNM School of Architecture and Planning, said. "We have two more years, at a minimum, working together. I want to introduce Tim Castillo, associate professor.
"It has been a dream of mine to come back to the community where I was raised and offer what we do," Castillo said. "This collaboration is also with Woodbury University School of Architecture.
"Last summer, 15 students from both universities came to Silver City and were housed at Western," he continued. "We looked at Silver City and ran a charette to determine what we could do. We talked to a lot of community members, and came back with ideas.
"We looked at Telluride, Colorado, and Savannah, Georgia, as examples," Castillo said. "We know there is an interest in culinary arts here.
"We developed the Plata Makers Lab," he said. "We want space downtown for STEAM, science, technology, engineer, arts and Math. We wanted to incorporate the arts, too. Design can bring opportunity. We are bringing in friends to help, because we want to bring in the culinary arts. We are creating a repository of all the information to be curated by students at Western."
"We look forward to returning for several years," Forbes-Isais said.
"We have spoken to the Trust for Public Lands and with the UNM Medical and Law Schools, too. We are requesting $100,000 for the Makers Lab. It's how to work in design for a workforce in engineering."
"What impressed me was the fresh sets of eyes for our community," Morales said. "I particularly like the collaboration with the university. We are known for our culinary arts and then this will bring opportunities for the economy.
"I am not comfortable with an appropriation to UNM or Western," Morales said. "Could you have a fiscal agent? How about the Council of Governments?"
"That is not a problem," Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, said.
Morales said it would be necessary to draft legislationâ€”just a simple appropriation bill.
"It's an intriguing idea that I would like to take statewide and replicate it," Shepard said. "Involving the COG is a brilliant idea."
"The project is called Finding Rural," Castillo said. "I like the three years we're doing it and fostering it. We are looking at national grants, too."
Hamilton commented that it was wonderful to see the universities working together in a project.
"This collaboration led to conversations at UNM for partnerships around the state," Forbes-Isais said. "We're doing well by doing good."
Zimmerman asked them to keep coming back and bringing updates.
"We are New Mexico," Zimmerman said. "We have a lot of talent and need to market it collaboratively. I've wondered why we aren't talking more to one another. This kind of collaborative effort is great. We have more technology here than anywhere else."
"We also have a strong partnership with DoÃ±a Ana Community College and New Mexico State University," Forbes-Isais said.
"Bringing in all these other entities, Architecture, Medicine and Law, they are doing it by action," Shepard said.