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PED Hires, Despite 33 Layoffs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Against the backdrop of 33 layoffs and a 24 percent budget cut to her department, Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera is quietly building her leadership team — some of them from outside New Mexico.

The move has drawn criticism from some legislators and union leaders.

“I’ve always felt that we have some highly qualified people in the state of New Mexico, and by law they deserve to be hired back first and foremost before we bring anybody else in that has less experience in New Mexico,” said Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque.

Skandera countered that five of the seven employees hired this spring are from New Mexico. She said she brings in talent from a variety of sources.

“I’ve said this about policy, we want to bring the expertise we need,” she said. “We’ll always look for the best and the brightest. And the five from New Mexico, they’re unbelievable.”

The five local hires are:

•   Paul Aguilar, former analyst for the Legislative Finance Committee, who now serves as the PED’s deputy secretary of finance and operations.

•   Mike Archibeque, who is now in charge of the PED’s information systems.

•   Larry Behrens, who has a background in television and radio news, and now serves as the PED’s spokesman.

•   Patty Matthews, a Santa Fe lawyer known for representing charter schools.

•   Matt Montaño, former principal of Bernalillo High School. Montaño earns a salary of $93,000, and is the PED’s new director of educator quality.

The two hires from outside New Mexico are:

•   Pete Goldschmidt, of UCLA’s National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing. Goldschmidt has given several local presentations on ways to evaluate teachers based partly on student test scores.

•   Leighann Lenti, who has experience working on Capitol Hill and has been hired as a policy analyst.

Full details on the team’s salaries and job descriptions were requested last week, but had not yet been provided Friday.

Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, was also critical of the outside hires.

“It hurts New Mexicans because they lost jobs while outsiders are going to get jobs,” Bernstein said.

The PED is in the midst of a reorganization, which relies on maximizing federal grants and other funding sources to restore positions that were cut. Twenty of those 33 positions have been reopened, and Skandera said five have already been filled by employees who were previously laid off. Four more jobs have been offered to employees who are considering them. And five more of the laid-off employees have found jobs in other state agencies.

Skandera emphasized that the hiring of her leadership team will not interfere with the chances for laid-off employees to get rehired.

Gov. Susana Martinez has been critical of the number of exempt employees under the last administration, and Skandera said there will be fewer exempt employees in the reorganized PED.

The last PED had 19 exempt positions, including the secretary. Skandera said she cut that down to 15 positions, of which eight are filled — including herself. She said she will fill the others in the coming month. She said she has also decreased the salaries of some exempt positions.

Skandera said her administration’s salary and benefit costs this year through June 30, compared to the corresponding time period last year, are $700,000 less, mainly by leaving certain positions vacant until she was ready to fill them permanently.

Elaine D. Briseño contributed to this report.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal