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APS seeks legislation to limit candidate disclosure

SANTA FE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools’ Board of Education wants lawmakers to revisit a piece of legislation that would ramp up secrecy surrounding superintendent applications.

A bill that died last session, then-Senate Bill 259, aimed to allow agencies to withhold the identities of all but three finalists for top public jobs, including school district superintendents. Others would be exempt from public record requirements that currently require all applicants to be disclosed.

However, Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, told the Journal in an email that the issue would not be on the agenda, referred to as the Governor’s Call.

“No, that’s not going to be on the call,” he wrote.

Wednesday night, the APS Board of Education voted 6-1 to send a letter to the governor, requesting that the application proposal be put on the upcoming session’s docket. Peggy Muller-Arag√≥n voted against it, saying she wants the future leader of the district to openly and proudly apply.

The board’s letter comes amidst a superintendent search in APS. APS’ leader Raquel Reedy announced she will be retiring in June.

Sen. Bill Tallman, an Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored SB 259, told the Journal on Wednesday that he is planning to file similar legislation for the upcoming session, which is a 30-day session focused on budgetary issues and other matters approved for consideration by the governor.

In SB 259, the limited disclosure would have been afforded in searches for a superintendent, city manager or other chief executive position in a local government or school district.

Tallman said the goal in the upcoming session is to make limited disclosure requirements effective immediately.

For that to happen, the bill would need to get on the call, which Stelnicki said would not happen, and have a strong backing from lawmakers to allow for an emergency clause that could make it go into effect right away.

Tallman said there was support from legislators previously.

“We came within a hair of getting that passed,” he said, adding that it passed committees but the session ran out of time before it could be addressed further.

If the proposal went into effect immediately, the law change would allow for APS to keep applications confidential during its current search and would only require the finalists to be revealed.

Tallman and the APS board argued that when applicants’ identities are available to the public, it inhibits qualified candidates from applying.

“The last time APS advertised, they didn’t get one application from a superintendent from large districts,” he said, adding New Mexico is one of five states to still have this requirement.

However, Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, pushed on this, saying reasoning for the changes to public record requirements have been largely speculative.

“In the past, the bill sponsors provided no empirical data to show that an open process affects the ability to hire a qualified person,” she said.

She also argued that by keeping the majority of applications out of view, there’s no guarantee that discrimination or cronyism isn’t part of the process.

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