Inside the Capitol

Saturday, March 26, 2011


MON, 3-28-11

SANTA FE – Expect some high-level personnel changes in state government now that the Legislature has adjourned.
New Gov. Susana Martinez didn't have time to get all of former Gov. Bill Richardson's political appointees replaced before the Legislature convened so she let some of them know they would remain in their jobs until after the legislative session. In other cases she promoted top-ranking classified employees into positions such as division directorships on a temporary basis.
Reportedly Gov. Martinez and her cabinet secretaries are sufficiently pleased with the jobs these employees are performing that some of them may assume the positions permanently even though they will loose the protections of the state Personnel Act.
For those few political appointees Martinez replaces with classified employees, she reduces the large number of exempt employees Richardson appointed during his term. That number exceeded 500 at one point. Martinez has said she intends to get that number down into the 300s.
Reports are coming in from state employees expressing confidence in their new bosses and describing them as bright and upfront about their plans. That confidence hasn't extended to the Senate Rules Committee in all cases.
Some of Gov. Martinez's more high profile cabinet appointments have yet to be confirmed by the state Senate. Secretary of Education designate Hanna Skandera came into office amid predictions by Gov. Martinez that she would be the savior of New Mexico's low-ranking education system.
Some senators were unimpressed, noting that Skandera doesn't have an education degree and hasn't ever been a classroom teacher or administrator. Led by Senate majority leader Michael Sanchez, the Senate held off on her confirmation and gave her only one of the package of three bills she said she needed to get New Mexico moving in the right direction.
The education bill making it all the way through the Legislature calls for letter grading of schools. Failing to pass the Legislature was a merit pay system for teachers and administrators and a bill requiring passage of a reading test before leaving third grade.
Grading schools A-F stirs some controversy but not to the extent that merit pay and social promotion have caused over the years. Using test scores as a primary basis of merit pay has been controversial ever since before my wife Jeanette and I taught 50 years ago.
New York tried it and it led to what then was called "teaching to the test." Lately it has been called just plain old cheating. Subjective evaluations by principals and central office administrators also have been controversial. The problem is how to do it fairly.
Eliminating social promotion sounds like a slam dunk. Who wouldn't be for that? When Jeanette taught second grade, she held several students back. But she did it only after intensive conversations with the parents. It usually was a matter of feeling the child hadn't reached a sufficient level of maturity to move up.
We and our son's kindergarten teacher held him out of first grade 33 years ago because a premature birth technically put him a year ahead in school but he really wasn't ready.
When the problem is insufficient reading skills, however, corrective measures should begin long before the end of the third grade, which was the solution of this year's legislation. Keeping nine-year-olds in third grade labels them and removes them for their social group, both of which make dropping out of school a much greater likelihood. It also costs more to keep students in school another year.
So the Senate wasn't without reason for not approving the bills.
Jon Barela, Martinez's nominee for secretary of the Economic Development Department, also was not confirmed. The action is not totally uncommon for nominees with political ambitions. Barela was the GOP candidate for Congress last year and has been mentioned as a future political candidate.
Barela and Skandera may be approved at some later date but appointees have been known to dangle for a long time.


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