More Bullying in New Mexico, Now of District School Boards

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Following up on a recent post about “New Mexico UnEnchanted” and a follow-up post about how the state’s Public Education Department (PED) is also “Silencing [its] Educators” requiring them to sign contractual documents indicating they will not “diminish the significance or importance of the tests” in the state, it now seems the PED is also attempting to usurp the power and authority of its state’s local school boards. More specifically, the PED is actively seizing power and authority over local school districts’ teacher evaluation systems, and in this case the extent to which sick leave is to be used to hold teachers accountable for their effectiveness.

In New Mexico, courtesy of the PED, all school districts are to include teachers’ absences due to sick leave and personal leave when holding teachers accountable for their effectiveness every year. While teachers’ collective bargaining agreements stipulate that such teacher absences should not be part of teachers’ evaluations, the state has overruled such stipulations. “If a teacher misse[s] a week of school during the year because of serious illness or surgery, or because of their child’s illness, they [are to] automatically receive a low evaluation rating, according to PED rules.”

The main issue here occurred when the school board of the Las Cruces District – the state’s second largest district – passed a resolution that contradicted the state’s above-mentioned plan as pertinent to the teacher attendance component. The PED chief Hanna Skandera, thereafter, threatened a takeover of the school district by the state, after which the school board rescinded its resolution.

In an article released last week written by “New Mexico Senate Democrats [about] PED Bullying [in] Las Cruces Public Schools,” democratic senators are arguing that the PED is “overstepp[ing] its legal authority” in a state in which such “bullying tactics” have no place in educational policy. “This is unwarranted intrusion and interference in the matters of an elected local school board, and it is wrong.”

According to Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez, “PED is tearing up legal contracts to force teachers not to use sick leave they have bargained for successfully. PED’s action is big government telling elected local officials what to do. Ordinary citizens of New Mexico, and especially all those who regularly decry the intrusion of big government into our lives, should be very upset about what the Governor’s Public Education Department [PED] has done.” He added, “During the recent legislative session we passed, and Governor Martinez signed, a strong anti-bullying bill to clamp down on bullying in the school yard and online. I think next year we may need a bill to stop the Governor and state education bureaucrats from bullying local school boards.”

Even the pretty conservative editor Walt Rubel of the Las Cruces Sun News agrees that the “PED [is using extreme] Strong-Arm [aka bullying] Tactics Against [the] Local School Board.”

As written into this editorial, as per PED chief Hanna Skandera, “the powers and duties of the local board could be suspended by the state if the district “[fails] to meet requirements of law or department rules or standards.” Skandera added, “While this is surely an extreme and undesirable outcome, it may be a potential consequence should the Las Cruces School Board continue to act outside its authority and direct the [Las Cruces] superintendent to violate the law.” As per a PED spokesperson, in response to the school district backing down, “We are pleased with the outcome, recognizing the importance of working together toward a solution.”  

“Right!” – writes Editor Rubel. “The PED and the school board ‘worked together’ in the same way that a lion and an antelope work together to ensure that the lion remains well fed.”

“The problem for PED chief Hanna Skandera is that she has been completely unable to achieve buy-in from teachers, students and parents throughout the state for the reforms being imposed from Santa Fe by Gov. Susana Martinez. That was evident last month when hundreds of students in Las Cruces, and thousands throughout the state, walked out in protest of the first year of the new PARCC testing. They haven’t been able to win support for their reforms on the merits, so they have had to implement them by force and intimidation” and other similar bullying tactics.

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