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APS board seeks to limit disclosure of future superintendent applicants

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education is asking lawmakers to exempt the school district from revealing names of future superintendent applicants.

Under current public record law, APS has to disclose the name of anyone applying for superintendent. The district wants to reveal only the finalists.

In a resolution approved Wednesday night, APS formally asked lawmakers for legislation that would exempt New Mexico public schools’ superintendent candidates from the Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA, until the candidate pool has been narrowed to three applicants. The draft resolution originally said the final five candidates would be named, but the board decided to lower that to three, saying that’s the more common policy in other states.

Board president David Peercy said that once those finalists were chosen, forums would be held “and everyone would know everything about them.”

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says the proposed change is “anti-transparency.” Melanie J. Majors, executive director of NMFOG, said the organization “strongly opposes the resolution.”

Majors said the public has an interest in who applies and not just who is a finalist, saying access to all candidates ensures all qualified people are fairly considered.

Peercy said at the meeting that transparency is important but it’s the board’s responsibility to hire a superintendent and “not necessarily anyone else’s.”

The resolution, which passed with a unanimous vote, says the goal is to get the most qualified candidates to apply.

“Open records of all applicants … for superintendent positions discourages some qualified candidates from applying for positions in New Mexico schools,” the approved resolution says.

Majors disputed the assertion, saying “there’s no real evidence to back that up.” She said APS has been able to attract qualified candidates with an open process thus far.

The resolution pointed to a similar exemption afforded the University of New Mexico. State law allows public higher education institutions to conceal the names of presidential candidates during the hiring process, as long as finalists are named.

Peercy said APS isn’t “setting the standard,” since 35 states have some exemption in open records requirements in searches for top-level executives at public schools or universities.

APS plans to send the resolution to the governor, the Public Education Department, the Legislative Education Study Committee, the Legislative Finance Committee and the New Mexico School Boards Association, according to the resolution.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said she has never seen this issue brought up by a school district before.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” she said.

But ultimately, she said, it’s too soon to say if the LESC will support it and both she and the committee need to hear more from APS.

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