State legislative committee visits with local education, military officials

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

The Legislative Finance Committee got a taste of local education and
military presence in the first of a three-day session at the Clovis
Civic Center.

In the morning, the 16-member state committee heard reports from
Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble, Clovis Community
College President John Neibling and Clovis Municipal Schools
Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm. They toured Cannon Air Force Base and
the Blackwater Draw’s Clovis Man archaeological site in the afternoon.

Neibling, president at Clovis Community College, said having the
committee in town to hear from eastern New Mexico schools only made for
a smooth dialogue.

“ When all 24 (New Mexico) colleges are in the same room,” Neibling said, “it’s very difficult to get the message out.”

Gamble, ENMU president since 2001, echoed Neibling’s sentiments.

“The last two states I was in,” Gamble said, “if you ever needed to talk about something, you had to go to the capitol.”

Gamble spoke for about 50 minutes with committee members on new
academic programs and transferring credits between in-state
universities.

“ We assured them in both those areas,” Gamble said, “things were going well.”

Neibling said things were also going well for CCC in terms of
enrollment. He dedicated his half-hour to discussing how the college’s
enrollment was tied to community development.

Cannon Air Force Base’s removal from its 2005 Base Realignment and
Closure listing, and change to a Special Operations Command base,
helped enrollment jump 25 percent from the previous summer. Neibling
said the numbers weren’t exact, but the college had enrollment of about
400 last year and an expected 500 for this year.

“With the BRAC announcement, the college, like a lot of businesses and
other organizations suffered, and we lost some enrollment,” Neibling
said. “That took place over the last three years. That seems to have
stopped. We were up a little bit in the spring.”

Seidenwurm discussed the changes Clovis schools will have to make with a higher student population expected from Cannon.

Seidenwurm outlined a proposed third middle school, along with how the
school plans to spend federal stimulus money. Seidenwurm said the goal
is to spend some money on software and training programs

Gamble was told by committee members New Mexico is better off than some
states in higher education funding, but is not “out of the woods yet”
on budgetary troubles.

Gamble said the university tries to combine vacant positions with current positions to save money.

“About 75 percent of our budget is in salaries, so that’s where our
budget needs are aimed,” Gamble said. “We’re doing everything we can to
protect the classroom.”

Lonnie Leslie of Clovis is chairman of the Local Growth Management
Organization, a combination of area community representatives focused
on readying communities for Cannon’s growth.

He addressed the housing needs of the area among others things,
including potential runway improvements at Clovis Municipal Airport,
which he said would help military personnel and civilians.

The group took a tour of the base later in the afternoon, where Leslie said members got to see housing units set to be replaced.

They also viewed one of two AC-130 aircraft on the base.

Base officials declined requests by Freedom New Mexico to accompany LFC members on the tour.