COUNSELOR — About halfway through a late-April Sunday service at the Living Spring Baptist Church, the sermon took an unusual turn. Pastor Tom Guerito’s exhortations to trust in God and resist sin, delivered mostly in Diné, gave way to a more earthly concern: oil and gas. “People say, ‘I smell it,’” Guerito told the 20 or so parishioners, who since 2012 have lived among an expanding constellation of oil and gas wells. But an air monitor installed nearby found nothing out of the ordinary, he said. “There’s nothing in the air.
When you’re driving at night through Counselor, N.M., on U.S. 550 the horizon takes on a dusky illumination, almost like daylight, Samuel Sage said during a Monday news conference in Santa Fe. Bright light flares from natural gas being burned off as part of oil and gas production, which has become increasingly common in that area of Northwestern New Mexico, particularly since 2013, said Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation’s Counselor Chapter House. Sage was among several environmental advocates who gathered at the state Capitol in support of a bill that, if passed, would create a four-year moratorium on any new state permits for hydraulic fracturing — a type of deep horizontal drilling that injects high-pressured fluid below ground. The bill also outlines extensive reporting requirements for several state agencies related to the impacts of fracking. “All we want is clean air and clean water,” Sage said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed up New Mexico to support the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement on Tuesday. In joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, Lujan Grisham is aligning New Mexico with other states working toward the accord’s goals after President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the international agreement in 2017. Signing an executive order at the state Capitol, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. “I will join 19 other governors who are clear about making sure we do something about climate change irrespective of the failed policies and lack of science that is going on in our federal government today,” Lujan Grisham said. The order is a start, cheered by environmental groups as affirming a pivot from the policies of her predecessor, former Gov. Susana Martinez.
Public documents show the superintendent of a school district in Sandoval County worked for four months in 2015 on an expired state educator license. But that superintendent, Allan Tapia of Bernalillo Municipal Schools, blames the state Public Education Department for not processing his license on time. “If they didn’t process it on their end, I didn’t have control over that,” he said in an interview. The documents, obtained through public records requests to the state by NM Political Report, show a 115-day gap between the expiration of Tapia’s administrative license and its renewal by the state Public Education Department last year. They also show the state’s renewal of Tapia’s administrative license came nearly four months after his previous license expired.
More than two dozen charter schools across the state accused the Public Education Department of directing “a general atmosphere of hostility” toward several state-authorized charter schools. Last month, the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools wrote a list of 20 detailed complaints against the PED’s Charter Schools Division coming from 29 charter schools across the state in a letter to the Public Education Commission, an elected statewide body that oversees state-authorized charter schools. “In a nutshell,” the letter reads, “The relationship between [the Charter Schools Division] and charter schools appears to have deteriorated significantly over the past year, and in numerous cases appears to be broken.”
Twenty charter schools signed onto the letter, though the Coalition says nine more have lodged complaints but didn’t want to go public “for fear of reprisal” from the PED. The list of complaints, which accuse PED of imposing burdensome regulations against charter schools, pits nearly one-third of the charter schools in the state against a state agency that has touted itself as favorable to nontraditional public education. The Coalition wrote the letter at the request of the Public Education Commission after first mentioning the problems at a March commission meeting.
Two more top-level employees at the state Public Education Department recently left their jobs, taking the number to at least five since the beginning of the year. Terese Vigil, who headed the PED’s human resources bureau, left the department in mid-February. Aimee Barabe, director of Strategic Outreach for the department, left around the same time period. Vigil and Barabe’s exits make at least five resignations from top-level PED staffers since the end of January. The three others were Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner.
At least three top-level state Public Education Department staffers recently resigned, among them a deputy cabinet secretary, NM Political Report has learned. They are Deputy Secretary for Policy and Program Leighann Lenti, Chief Information Officer Michael Archibeque and National Assessment of Educational Progress and Internal Assessments State Coordinator Stephanie Gardner. Lenti is one of two deputies under Secretary Hanna Skandera, pulling in a $105,000 per year according to the state’s Sunshine Portal. The department’s other deputy cabinet secretary is Hipolito “Paul” Aguilar, who had been rumored to resign but told NM Political Report in February that he wasn’t doing so. Archibeque, who handled the department’s IT division, earned close to $96,000 for his salary.
A report from State Auditor Tim Keller released Thursday takes a former Española Public School District principal to task for allegedly misusing more than $12,000 from a candy fundraiser last year. Though the audit doesn’t list the former principal’s name, NM Political Report has learned it’s referring to Norma Lara, who used to head San Juan Elementary. “In addition, the same Principal was found to be pocketing money from game gate fund wherein she was responsible for maintaining certain gate receipts during the games,” the audit reads. “The receipts turned in to the athletic director were found to be off sequence.”
Lara, who is now a first grade teacher at Pablo Roybal Elementary in Pojoaque, did not return a handwritten message sent to her classroom this morning. Specifically, the audit states that it examined records from 10 teachers who participated in the fundraiser, which was meant to raise money for student activity funds, along with Lara’s records.
A second state Public Education Department employee is claiming she previously raised concerns about the faked credentials of a high-level administrator. Susan Benavidez, who worked in the agency’s licensure bureau until last month, released a statement to media today corroborating another employee’s recent claims about Charles Trujillo. Benavidez also said she raised her own concerns, which “fell on deaf ears.” Trujillo, the superintendent of Mora Independent Schools District, was the subject of a Las Vegas Optic investigation that revealed he faked his credentials to get an educator license from PED. Trujillo also headed PED’s licensure bureau in 2013.
The embattled superintendent at Mora Independent Schools surrendered his education licenses following a report that found he faked credentials to get the position. The allegations against Charles Trujillo were first reported by the Las Vegas Optic following a months-long investigation. After the report, multiple media outlets, including New Mexico Political Report, followed up on the report. One Public Education Department employee whose signature was on some of the faked credentials said she did not sign the papers and that she had raised concerns about Trujillo’s credentials to PED officials “well over a year ago.” PED spokesman Robert McEntyre acknowledged to media outlets Tuesday that the document with Lewis’ signature doesn’t appear to be authentic.