A District Court judge and state education chief Hanna Skandera approved Albuquerque Public Schools’ $350,000 settlement agreement with Winston Brooks on Friday, with neither weighing in on whether the district should release a secret report on the former superintendent.
The APS investigative report on Brooks and his wife that apparently led to the agreement was not presented to the judge or PED and so far remains secret. The district has refused requests from the Journal and others to make the report public.
Both Brooks and school board member Marty Esquivel testified before State District Judge Valerie A. Huling that the agreement was in the best interest of APS, the community and Brooks. They reached the agreement on Aug. 15.
“It was unanimous (among school board members) that this was the smartest, most efficient way to part ways with Mr. Brooks,” Esquivel told the court.
He noted Brooks had two years left on his contract, which was worth over $600,000 in salary and benefits.
APS’ petition to the court seeking approval of the settlement argued that firing Brooks could have created a prolonged and expensive legal battle, which would have been a distraction for the district.
Huling said she concurred that the agreement was in the best interest of the parties and the community.
Later Friday, Skandera sent a letter to attorneys for Brooks and APS telling them the department had approved the settlement. She said APS has an adequate budget to pay for the buyout, and it did not appear the deal would “disrupt the education of students or have any adverse effect on the educational processes in the district.”
Regarding the report on Brooks, she said her department “is aware that concerns have been raised about the confidentiality of an investigative report commissioned by the APS school board, but notes that Judge Huling said today (Friday) that this specific issue could be addressed in a future case and the district’s decision to protect the report from disclosure could be overturned,” Skandera wrote.
The report was prepared by Agnes Padilla, a private attorney who was hired to investigate an undisclosed personnel issue regarding Brooks. School board President Analee Maestas hired Padilla in July to look into the matter.
The settlement agreement calls for the report to be put in a separate file and not be made public.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, the Journal and others have requested the report under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
The district argues the report is exempt from the act because it contains confidential personnel information protected by law and is protected by attorney-client privilege. Attorneys for the Journal have sent a letter to the district challenging those assertions, arguing that the public is entitled to factual portions of the report such as witness interviews.
Gregory Williams, an attorney for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and the Journal, asked Huling about the impact her approval might have on the public records issue.
The judge said her approval would not prohibit another judge from ruling the report should be made public, but said FOG, the Journal or another party seeking the report would have to do so in a separate case.
Brooks had been the APS superintendent since July 2008. He signed a three-year rolling contract with the APS board, under which he was eligible for a one-year extension every year. His base salary was $250,000 a year plus a $51,500 yearly payment toward his Supplemental Retirement Plan.
He had a number of successes during his tenure. Brooks oversaw a rise in graduation rates from 63.2 percent in 2008, the year Brooks was hired, to 73.3 percent for the graduating class of 2013.
But for much of the past year he had been on shaky ground, partly because of an incident last November in which he made a derogatory tweet about Skandera. Afterward, the board voted to not extend Brooks’ contract for one year beyond the June 2016 expiration date.
He also is a defendant in lawsuits alleging he mistreated women employees.
Timeline of Brooks’ APS career