There are several lessons that can be taken from Friday’s Albuquerque Public Schools board $350,000 buyout of Superintendent Winston Brooks.
First and foremost, it needed to happen.
When the 62-year-old Brooks was busted during a November school board meeting for a Twitter conversation with a television reporter in which he likened state Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera to a barnyard animal, his judgment and his dedication to moving the state’s largest school district were put in serious question.
And while his departure appears to have nothing to do with that unfortunate and embarrassing incident, it bolstered Brooks’ stance as a vocal critic of national and state education reforms designed to boost student achievement by establishing accountability and performance measures for students and teachers – even though fewer than half of his 86,000 students can do math or read at grade level.
The Twitter debacle prompted the board to decline extending Brooks’ contract, instead placing him on an improvement plan. And while everyone can and should strive to do better, that’s not really what taxpayers want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for while their kids can’t read a cereal box or make change for a dollar.
Then there was the bizarre 911 call he made, claiming he was being assaulted by his wife. She said he was hallucinating from a medical condition, and no arrests were made.
The unseemly Skandera matter followed a bit of a theme, namely that Brooks had problems with women in important jobs.
He’s still facing a couple of lawsuits filed by two of them, one a former assistant principal he said had “slept her way to the top” and another a former associate superintendent demoted after complaining Brooks “treated women with disdain.”
In fact, Ralph Arellanes, chairman of the Hispano Roundtable of New Mexico and president of the Albuquerque chapter of LULAC, said his organizations “have never had so many complaints about abuse of power against women and minorities as we have received from this superintendent.”
While it should be Brooks on the hook for any judgments or settlements in those cases, it’s more likely to be – you guessed it – the taxpayers.
Last month, APS Board President Analee Maestas hired an attorney to look into serious personnel matters regarding Brooks and, apparently, his wife, Ann. It was that attorney’s secret report that led to his departure.
A second lesson is that some good things did happen at APS with Brooks in charge.
The graduation rate is up markedly. It was 46.2 percent when Brooks was hired in 2008, according to an APS spokesman. In 2013, it was 73.3 percent.
APS has partnered with Central New Mexico Community College on a dual-credit school, started an International Baccalaureate program at Sandia High and launched a full-time virtual school.
Brooks’ pick for chief financial officer turned the district’s bond rating around and earned a rating of AA1 from Moody’s.
And Brooks has stood up for students – from one who was bullied by a state wrestling champ to all who might get a better education if teacher transfer policies were changed.
Finally, the third lesson is the folks picking up the tab deserve to know more about why the almost permanently short-of-cash district is shelling out more than nine times the median household income in the city to get Brooks to go away before his contract is up in 2016.
Yes, it’s a good deal in the sense that Brooks would have made nearly twice that much sticking around in a job long after he had become ineffective or worse. But in terms of public accountability it could and should be better.
According to Brooks’ “Resignation and Settlement Agreement,” the attorney’s investigation (also paid for with an undisclosed mount of public money) will be kept “in a file separate from Brooks’ personnel file, and it shall not be released to anyone, including potential future employers in response to a request for Brooks’ personnel file.”
Yet the board will give Brooks a letter of recommendation.
No district should perpetuate the game of pass-the-bad superintendent. While APS has pledged not to reveal the report even to a prospective new employer for Brooks, it seems almost incomprehensible that anyone would hire him without seeing it.
While it is unfortunate Brooks and his wife became the focus of an attorney’s investigation, and airing their presumably dirty laundry will not move the district forward, taxpayers deserve to know more about what they are paying for.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.