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Sen. pushes return of education board

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SANTA FE – Roughly 10 years after New Mexico voters approved an overhaul of the state’s education system, an Albuquerque state senator is proposing a return to the earlier model.

Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat, has prefiled a constitutional amendment proposal to re-establish a state board of education – although making it nonpartisan – and do away with a governor-appointed education secretary.

He said the model adopted via a 2003 constitutional amendment – pushed by then-Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson and others – has made the state’s public education system overly political.

“It’s not going to work to have massive, drastic changes every time we have a new governor,” Padilla said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez blasted the proposal as an attempt to hijack education policy. Constitutional amendment proposals, however, bypass the governor. House and Senate approval would send the proposal to voters for ratification.

“This is yet another proposal to take education backwards in New Mexico and interrupt the focus on reforming education for the betterment of our kids,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

“This is a way to put the union special interests in charge of education in New Mexico.”

The 10-member board of education proposed by Padilla would replace the Public Education Commission, which has limited power. Board races would be nonpartisan – unlike under the previous model – and terms would be set for four years.

The board would be in charge of setting education policy and appointing an education superintendent, who would direct the state’s Public Education Department.

Under the constitutional amendment adopted in 2003, the governor appoints a Cabinet-level education secretary. Just three people have served as PED secretary – Veronica Garcia, Susanna Murphy and Hanna Skandera, whom Martinez selected in 2010.

Padilla, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said his proposal is not aimed at Skandera, who has drawn the ire of teacher unions and some Democratic lawmakers by pushing teacher evaluation and school-grading initiatives, among other efforts.

“This is not at all intended to go after the current secretary of education,” he said. “This is about our students.”

If approved by both the House and Senate during the coming legislative session, the constitutional amendment would go before state voters in November 2014.

State lawmakers can pre-file legislation for the coming 30-day legislative session through Jan. 17. The session begins Jan. 21.

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