Turnout still low, but up in Albuquerque school board election

Yesterday Albuquerque voters turned out in (relatively) big numbers for the Albuquerque Public Schools Board election. In some districts of the city, voter turnout was nearly twice what it was  in the 2013 election, the last time the same districts were up for grabs. Turnout ended at 6.6 percent of eligible voters for APS races. None of the school board races were particularly close, with all four winners clearing 50 percent in races with between four and six candidates. In District 1, incumbent Lorenzo Garcia won with 3,221 votes in the unofficial results, which came to 65.08 percent of the vote.

Martinez signs budget-balancing measures

Gov. Susana Martinez signed three bills Tuesday to balance the state’s budget, taking about $46 million from the reserves of public schools. But she vetoed cuts to an economic development program and various accounts in New Mexico government. The bills could raise $190 million for the state’s general fund, closing a deficit that was projected to total about $80 million. The measures also will replenish government reserves, though not nearly to the extent of plans proposed in early January by legislative staff and the governor’s own administration. The package will leave the state’s cash reserves at 1.8 percent, rather than nearly 3 percent as previously proposed.

N.M. high school graduation rate up to 71%

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate rose to 71 percent in 2016, the highest percentage since the state began tracking four-year rates in 2008, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday. The rate jumped 2½ points from the previous year and increased in 48 of the state’s 89 school districts in 2016, including Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe. “With more students graduating high school than ever before, New Mexico is better preparing our kids to enter the workforce, college and beyond,” Martinez said at a news conference at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The governor used the occasion to again push her plan to end the practice of so-called social promotion — moving students forward to the next grade — for third graders who cannot read proficiently. The graduation rate for Santa Fe Public Schools in 2016 was 71 percent, up from 66.8 percent for the previous year.

Lawmakers look at slicing APS into smaller districts

Near the end of his announcement for mayor last weekend, Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis took a shot at the city’s public school district, saying it needed “radical repair.”

“I believe now is the time to deconstruct this large unaccountable school district and replace it with smaller, more accountable school districts,” Lewis said at the business incubator ABQ Fat Pipe, which is located in the old Albuquerque High School building. “As your mayor, what I’ll do is lead the charge to fundamentally change education in our city.”

With more than 95,000 students in the school system, APS ranks as the 31st largest public school district in the nation—outsizing the public school systems in bigger cities like Detroit, San Francisco and Boston. Lewis is making the idea of breaking up the school district a part of his mayoral platform. To do so requires action from the state legislature. State Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, could be the lawmaker that takes on the issue this legislative session, which starts next week.

AG says APS violated open records law. Now they’re still denying a mother the documents

For more than a year, Laura Gutierrez has been at standstill in a dispute with the state’s largest public school district. Gutierrez is seeking records from an internal investigation of an Albuquerque Public Schools police officer that came after she alleged the officer tased her son during the fall of 2014. While APS handed over a memo stating that the investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, it also withheld releasing supporting documents like a field investigator’s supplemental report, witness statements and a forensic interview conducted with Gutierrez’s son, Michael Bruening. “I should be able to know what my son said in the interview,” Gutierrez, who formerly went by the name Laura Bruening, told NM Political Report. Gregory Williams, an Albuquerque attorney and president of the pro-transparency New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, agrees.

State Auditor: Charter school exec paid for cleaning with public funds

A review by the State Auditor found an Albuquerque charter school’s executive altered a receipt to receive a reimbursement from the school for cleaning services performed on her home. The investigation prompted a referral to prosecutors for multiple potential crimes. The State Auditor looked into the allegations, first raised in the media earlier this year, over the actions of Analee Maestas, the Executive Director of La Promesa Charter School. Maestas also is the Vice President of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education. “The timeline of events indicate that the Executive Director used school funds to pay for work completed at her home,” State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement.

Ex-APS official not guilty of child sex abuse

A jury in Denver found a former Albuquerque Public Schools deputy superintendent not guilty on child sexual assault charges. The jury found Jason Martinez not guilty on four counts in all. Two were for sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and the other two were for sexual assault on a child with a pattern of abuse. Martinez faced those charges while working at APS last year. Martinez did not undergo a background check required of all school personnel before he abruptly resigned last summer after just two months on the job.

National org: Proposed audit changes at APS are a bad idea

A national auditing organization reached out to Albuquerque Public Schools on Tuesday and asked the district to rethink the restructuring of the auditing department. David Jones, the city auditor of Seattle, penned the letter on behalf of the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) asking APS Board President David Peercy to keep the district’s current internal audit processes in place. Jones also serves as the ALGA’s advocacy committee chair. “We believe these changes significantly weaken the District’s audit functions and could limit the transparency of the District’s operations,” Jones wrote. APS is seeking to eliminate the independence of its auditors and shift those responsibilities to other areas of the district.

Feds: School districts must accommodate transgender students

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education called on school districts around the country to include transgender students in Title IX policies in a letter sent Friday. The eight page letter outlines how school districts should address issues surrounding transgender students, including in bathroom and athletic facilities. “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity,” the letter read. “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”

The letter also said that schools can provide other options for students who prefer to use a separate facility for extra privacy. Representatives from Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Public Schools did not respond to messages from NM Political Report before press time, but a spokeswoman for Las Cruces Public Schools said they have not received the letter from the federal government.

APS changes leave audit staff out of work

When told earlier this week that Albuquerque Public Schools would not be completely eliminating her department, Director of the Internal Audit office Peg Koshmider said it was news to her. Koshmider told NM Political Report  APS told her department they would no longer be employed by the school district after June. “We all got letters of termination,” Koshmider said. Koshmider said her last day at APS is June 30 and she still isn’t sure whether APS will look to move the three employees she oversees to other positions within APS. Koshmider said she herself may end up unemployed and drawing from what she has paid into her retirement fund—even if she “certainly wasn’t intending to retire” before she received the letter of termination.