February 3, 2016

House committee addresses APS hiring practices

Albuquerque Public Schools

The House Education Committee addressed two bills that seemed to target issues within the Albuquerque Public Schools. The committee voted unanimously to tighten educator background checks but failed to pass legislation that would add restrictions to school district superintendents in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

Albuquerque Public Schools

Albuquerque Public Schools

Both bills stem from recent issues in Albuquerque where the past two superintendents left with large severance packages and a deputy superintendent was hired without a background check while he had criminal sexual abuse charges on his record.

Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring HB 127 which would require all educators to complete a fingerprint based background check before they start work. Currently, state statute does not outline a specific timeline for when a background check must be completed. According to an analysis by the Public Education Department, school employees who received a teaching certificate before 1998, may not be required to go through a fingerprint based background check.

The panel only had a few questions regarding the bill and passed it unanimously.

Background checks for school employees became a hot topic last year when it was discovered that former Albuquerque School District Superintendent Louis Valentino hired Jason Martinez without a background check. NM Political Report first reported that Martinez had a number of criminal charges against him, in Colorado.

The issue of employment conditions for superintendents did not pass the committee as easily. Again, focus was on Albuquerque Public Schools. The past two APS superintendents left with large buy out packages. Winston Brooks and Valentino both resigned amid scandal received comfortable buy out packages.

The bill would legislate that superintendents in Las Cruces and Albuquerque would be limited to a six month contract without a buyout option. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, did not pull punches when told the committee what his focus was.

“APS is the problem and we have to fix the problem in Albuquerque,” Rehm said.

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, who is also an APS educator, expressed concern that by limiting district discretion the talent pool would also be limited.

“If [APS] chose to select somebody from out of state, and that person accepts the job, who in their right mid would want to move to Albuquerque on a provisional contract,” Williams Stapleton asked.

Rehm argued that APS is one of the highest paying districts in the U.S. and if a candidate wants to work in Albuquerque, they will abide by the law, if enacted.

With Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, abstaining from voting since he is a superintendent, the vote to pass the bill tied 6-6. The bill is now essentially tabled with a possibility to be voted on again.