SANTA FE – The Senate Rules Committee will vote today on whether to recommend the confirmation of Hanna Skandera, the controversial New Mexico Public Education Department secretary-designate nominated more than three years ago by Gov. Susana Martinez, the committee’s chairwoman said.
Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said Sunday there will be no public testimony accepted during today’s hearing. But Lopez said, “A vote will be taken.”
The committee’s vote could send the Skandera nomination to the full Senate. The 10-member committee includes six Democrats and four Republicans.
Skandera has run the Public Education Department for Martinez since 2011. Cabinet nominees are subject to Senate confirmation. But previous governors, when faced with Senate opposition, have sometimes given those nominees another title and kept them on the job.
In a statement Sunday, PED spokesman Larry Behrens said Skandera has broad support from education and business leaders and looks forward to today’s hearing.
“She is well-qualified for a position she has held for three years now and if she wasn’t, the Senate would have taken action long ago,” Behrens said.
“Last year, Senator Lopez staged a politically motivated and prolonged political circus at taxpayer expense that did nothing to help improve student achievement in New Mexico,” Behrens said.
The board president of Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, urged support of Skandera in a personal letter sent to Lopez and other Senate Rules Committee members.
” The letter comes from me personally and not within my capacity of the President of the Albuquerque Board of Education,” Marty Esquivel wrote.
“In my 35 years of following government and politics in New Mexico, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a government official – either Democrat or Republican – treated with so much undeserved contempt,” Esquivel said.
“Many of the more personal attacks on Ms. Skandera are bothersome to me because they begin from a premise that she is intent on hurting children rather than helping them. I find that ludicrous,” Esquivel wrote.
“I feel the time has come to approve Ms. Skandera’s nomination … and give her a fair opportunity to work through our differences,” Esquivel said.
During last year’s legislative session, Lopez’s Rules Committee spent 10 hours over three days hearing public comments and debating the qualifications of Skandera, who was chosen by the just-elected Republican governor in December 2010 to head up New Mexico’s public school system.
No hearings were held in 2011 an 2012 and no vote on Skandera’s confirmation had been taken through Sunday.
Skandera was a controversial nominee from the start, criticized by Democrats, unions and many educators because she has no regular classroom teaching experience. She has become even more controversial for using executive authority last year to establish a statewide teacher evaluation system that had been rejected by the Legislature.
Other controversial Skandera initiatives have included an A-F grading system for public schools and merit-based pay for educators.
Apart from the confirmation proceedings, a proposal sponsored by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, would change the state Constitution to require the Public Education secretary to be a licensed educator in the state – criteria that Skandera would not meet.