March 9, 2017

Martinez vetoes bill on use of sick leave impacting teachers’ evaluations

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation Thursday that would allow teachers to use their sick leave without it affecting their evaluations.

Martinez said if the bill, which sponsors dubbed the “Teachers are Human Too Act,” became law, it would lead to more teacher absences, which would create more expenses, including for substitute teachers. Martinez said this would also lead to decreased quality of education.

“We need our teachers in our classrooms, and House Bill 241 would lead to more teacher absences,” Martinez wrote.

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The Public Education Department was unable to estimate in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report how many teacher absences there would be under the bill, and at what cost. A substitute teacher is paid $66.50 per day.

The bill would let teachers use their ten days of sick leave before it would impact their evaluations. Currently, teachers can use three days of sick leave before it impacts their evaluation. Martinez said she would support raising that to five days.

“I am extremely disappointed at the Governor’s veto of HB 241, which would ensure that teachers would not have to go to work sick, and would protect the health and well being of their students,” Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Later, Brandt said he would attempt a veto override.

The heads of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and National Education Association-New Mexico also called for a veto override.

State Reps. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, and Dennis Roch, R-Texaco, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, released a joint statement about Martinez’s veto.

“While we were hoping for a different outcome, we respect Gov. Martinez decision to veto House Bill 241 and we understand her desire to use a comprehensive approach when considering changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system,” they said. “We will continue to work with teachers, school districts, and the Public Education Department to resolve this issue in a way that supports teachers and ensures students receive consistent, high-quality instruction from experienced teaching professionals.”

Another sponsor, Los Alamos Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard, was more biting in her statement.

“Parents and students want good teachers in our schools, and one way to keep good teachers is to ensure New Mexico has a good work environment and fair teacher evaluations,” Garcia Richard said. “Governor Martinez could not have had the best interest of New Mexico kids, parents, or teachers in mind when considering this legislation. The Governor asks for sympathy for getting hurt on the ski slopes in Utah, yet she denies even a modicum of sympathy to show some to our teachers who can’t afford to take a skiing vacation, let alone to get sick.”

Sponsors argued that when teacher evaluations are negatively impacted by the use of sick leave, teachers come to school sick and are less effective.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously, 39-0, while the House passed the bill 64-3. A two-thirds vote of both chambers would overrule Martinez’s veto and allow the bill to become law. The Legislature hasn’t voted to override a governor’s veto since Gary Johnson vetoed a budget in 2003.

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Martinez wrote it is possible for teachers to be rated “highly effective” or “exemplary” while using the ten days of leave currently. The Legislative Education Study Committee noted during the interim, a teacher would need to be nearly perfect in other areas to reach these high ratings.

Martinez also tied the veto of the teacher absences bill to the failure of other educational bills. The governor mentioned a bill that would allow some “experienced and qualified professionals” two-year licenses to teach as adjunct instructors.

“I would welcome a bill that considers reasonable changes to attendance measures as part of an effective, comprehensive teacher evaluation system,” Martinez wrote. “However, the Legislature continually refused to engage despite the Public Education Department’s (PED) repeated good-faith attempts to meet teachers and teachers’ unions halfway.”

A bill to codify the evaluation system into law failed earlier this session in a House committee. Currently, evaluations are done through rulemaking at PED.

Update: Added statements by Sen. Craig Brandt.

Update 2: Added statement from Rep. Jason Harper and Rep. Dennis Roch, as well as information about teacher unions calling for a veto override.

Update 3: Added statement by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard.

Martinez Veto Message on HB 241 by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd