Inside the Capitol

Monday, January 17, 2005

1-23 Should We Abolish Elected Boards?

SANTA FE – New Mexico citizens are beginning to see the impact of the constitutional amendment we passed in September 2003, transferring control of public schools from an elected state board of education to the governor.
Two education items were on that special election ballot. One of them, permitting a little bigger dip for schools into the state permanent fund, passed narrowly amid much controversy. The other amendment, abolishing the elected state Board of Education and transferring its powers to the governor, passed by a bigger margin with little controversy.
Easy passage of the governance amendment was somewhat surprising in light of its failure in previous elections. New Mexicans traditionally have not liked giving up the right to vote on their public officials, even if they can’t name them or describe exactly what they do.
But this time New Mexico voters gave the benefit of the doubt to a governor who argued that education was his top priority and there wasn’t much he could do about it as long as a separate board had control.
One year earlier gubernatorial candidate Bill Richardson had laid out his vision for moving New Mexico forward. Voters liked his energy, enthusiasm and ideas.
That popularity continued through the early months of Richardson’s administration, resulting in the Legislature agreeing to put the two education measures on the ballot and scheduling a seldom-seen special election to get the governor’s program moving quickly.
Richardson campaigned all summer that year to sell the changes. It wasn’t easy for New Mexicans to swallow either amendment, but here was a governor willing to devote his considerable influence to improving education in New Mexico in a way we never had found possible to accomplish in the past.
So we gave him his shot and, true to his word, Richardson embarked on a mission to increase school funding, raise teacher licensing standards, require more testing and offer more opportunities for students.
He’s still going full steam ahead. But in the process, some New Mexicans are noticing that there’s no way to slow down the juggernaut.
Sure, the newly-created Public Education Department holds hearings on changes it proposes, just as the elected board did. But whereas the elected board would then vote, in public, in the presence of those asking for changes, department staff return to their offices to make a decision another day.
It is much quicker and more efficient this way. There are no stalemates. Undue pressure can be avoided. Bad suggestions can be ignored. But some New Mexicans are starting to feel that something is missing.
Gone is the ability to lobby the board member from your district for some representation. And gone is the ability to vote for or against that member in the next election.
The only public official accountable now is the governor, and he doesn’t have the accessibility of the former elected board members. And gone is the assurance that policies will remain in place when an administration changes. When new members are elected to a board, regulations continue until changed by majority vote.
Certainly there is a good chance the new system will work at least as well and may even result in the significant improvements promised by the governor.
Our nation has survived quite nicely for over 200 years with no elected national boards. State education department personnel do revise their proposals in response to public input and strive to make as many accommodations as they can within directives of the governor.
Meanwhile some New Mexicans are feeling a little steamrollered. One of those groups is private pre-schools, which don’t ask for government funding, but which nevertheless face regulation of their program content under a pre-kindergarten proposal by the governor.
That may be an area in which the new Public Education Department should slow down and take a closer look at whether it is proposing unnecessary government involvement.


Post a Comment

<< Home