February 16, 2015

Skandera clears committee, next stop the floor


classroomSecretary-designate Hanna Skandera’s confirmation as Secretary of the Public Education Department passed the Senate Rules committee with no recommendation on a lengthy and at-times contentious confirmation hearing.

Following the 5-4 vote, Skandera’s nomination now goes to the full Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, confirmed following the committee hearing that the plan was to bring Skandera’s nomination to the floor later Monday afternoon.

Skandera said that she was proud of the work she has done over the last four years, all of which she has done as an unconfirmed leader of the PED.

“I hope that I have another four years to stand in this city and across the state and fight what are we going to do about it,” Skandera said of her education reform efforts.

She also defender her evaluation systems of both teachers and schools, both which have been heavily criticized.

“I stand here today that we do need to measure if we’re moving forward, moving backwards, seeing great change or not,” she said.

Gov. Susana Martinez first nominated Skandera to lead PED in 2011, but Skandera has not been confirmed in that time.

In 2014, Skandera finally received a confirmation hearing but she remained in limbo after a vote to move on her confirmation with no recommendation ended on a tie vote. A do-pass motion failed on a 6-4, party-line vote.

This time, aided by a recusal by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, her nomination passed the committee with Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, voting with the four Republicans to pass along her confirmation. It is the second year in which Sanchez was the lone Democrat to vote for Skandera’s nomination.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, presented Skandera’s nomination to the committee and praised her work over the last four years.

“There are new ideas from Secretary[-designate] Skandera,” Ingle said. “They are not always agreed with, as new ideas never are.”

Ingle was the only Republican to speak on the portion of the hearing on Skandera’s nomination.

Michael Sanchez said he did not believe that Skandera was qualified to serve as secretary of the Public Education Department.

“There’s nothing personal in my remarks to you,” Michael Sanchez said. “I can’t vote for your confirmation. I’ve never believed from day one that you’re qualified for that position.”

He said it wasn’t a partisan issue and he would say the same thing if a Democratic governor had nominated her.

Michael Sanchez also questioned Skandera about allegations of cheating on standardized tests in Shiprock and if there had been any investigation. Skandera said she would get back to him on that.

Clemente Sanchez said that he thought Senators were elected “to take some tough votes.”

“I think it is imperative that the entire body debate this nomination and take a vote up or down,” Clemente Sanchez said.

The committee hearing was extended thanks to an hour-long break in the middle. Michael Sanchez announced before Skandera’s hearing began that Senate Democrats planned on caucusing at 10:00 a.m.

The Senate took 20 minutes of public comment from supporters of Skandera before recessing. When the committee returned, they heard the same amount of public comment from those who opposed Skandera’s nomination.

During public testimony, several people said they did not always agree with Skandera but believed that Martinez deserved to appoint who she preferred to serve in her cabinet.

“Simply disagreeing with policy is not, I believe, enough to not confirm her,” Santa Fe Public Schools school board president Steven Carrillo said.

Many teachers spoke in opposition to Skandera’s nomination. Three common themes were that they did not believe Skandera is an experienced educator, as the state constitution requires for the PED secretary and that morale among teachers has dropped in the past four years and that testing is not fair and disrupts the school day.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said he was concerned about the tone that came out of the former spokesman for Skandera’s department. He said that spokesman was “consistently demeaning, rude, and downright nasty” to anyone who disagreed or criticized the PED or the changes to education in the state.

Several Republican members of the panel were upset about the tone that came from opponents of Skandera, saying they should refer to her by her title and to avoid any personal attacks.

Ivey-Soto cited pending litigation between Rio Rancho’s Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science charter school, which he represents, as a reason why he could not take part in the discussion or vote on Skandera.