COMMENTARY: The Albuquerque Public School Board is more important than our community has recognized. APS has a larger budget than the entire city of Albuquerque. It is one of the largest employers in the state. Even our mayoral candidates have crossed normally bright lines of division of authority and opined about the distressing impact education has on our fine city.
And, society has been asking too much of this particular institution. Take any measure of public regard and it is painfully obvious that this institution is the red-haired step child of public agencies. APS has been neglected for decades in terms of turnout by voters, oversight by legislators and regulators, and scrutiny by taxpayers. And now we add to the list, practice of prosecutors. Sadly, our community is reaping the harvest of child neglect.
Our newly formed organization, The New Mexico Education Improvement Project (NMEIP), was instrumental in forcing the recent resignation of an APS board member, Dr. Analee Maestas. The mission of our organization is to restore fiscal responsibility, morality, discipline and appropriate curriculum development producing a higher quality student. Our organization filed a petition, in conjunction with a constituent in APS School District 1, with the district court to have Dr. Maestas recalled. The state’s attorney general jumped on the bandwagon after we announced our plan of action and requested her resignation.
While we enthusiastically welcome his acquiescence to the widely shared public opinion, it is clear that he had authority to do much more. It is our humble but firmly held belief, especially in light of the state auditor’s report, that the attorney general should have filed charges.
Compare how Dr. Maestas was treated with the similar situation faced by the former secretary of state, Diana Duran. Dr. Maestas, through her attorney, refused to quit. In fact, she was prepared and eager to fight the petition in court. However, with our looming threat of a recall, she, albeit reluctantly, resigned.
The union leadership and its menacing influence on our school board may have actually directed the timing of the resignation. My personal opinion is that union leader Ellen Bernstein has been working on finding Dr. Maestas’ replacement for the last year when all of this trouble began. We shall soon see. After the election in February 2017, the union leadership made the pronouncement that they have their people in place and they can proceed with their progressive agenda. And to her credit, Ms. Bernstein has kept her word.
Dr. David Peercy and the current board have the fortunate opportunity to upgrade a board position. It is critical to offer a credible set of criterion for choosing a board member.
The first criterion is honesty. We need board members who are honest with whomever they come in contact. We cannot afford another dishonest board member. We can give some room for the present board to right the ship. That is truly a high calling and difficult job in and of itself. This institution could use a little more frankness in the public’s interest, and the present vacancy is evidence of our profound grasp of the obvious.
The second criterion is fiscal prowess. We need board members who possess fiscal street smarts, sporting a résumé replete with examples of sound financial success. Please note, this is not the same as being rich or having a degree in finance. There is a distinction worthy of the taxpayer’s attention.
The public needs a board member with strong financial leadership to craft a better $1.3 billion budget. This budget is more than 25 percent higher than the entire city of Albuquerque’s budget. The current board members are not exhibiting this quality of fiscally responsible budgeting of dollars to the right programs and systems in order to produce a stronger result. Board members must make a case in favor of less administration costs and more education reform.
The third criterion is independent thinking. Students need a board member who can buck the system, ignore the threats of the union leadership, and make clear, competent decisions on behalf of our children. Union leadership has been doing the same thing for 18 years and nothing has changed.
Albuquerque needs change in this specific arena. New Mexico needs APS to do a better job. NMEIP requires board members to take their responsibility seriously. If you really want change, support the position taken by NMEIP.
If you do not act now, we will have an interim board member controlled by the union leadership, producing the same results. Call APS at (505) 880-3700 and tell the board members to use these criteria to select the next board member.