It would be “highly unusual” for state education chief Hanna Skandera to block the buyout agreement between Albuquerque Public Schools and former superintendent Winston Brooks, an attorney for the district said Thursday.
That’s because the $350,000 settlement to buy out the last two years of Brooks’ contract – which included a $250,000 base salary – will be reviewed by a judge before it goes to Skandera’s desk, said Tony Ortiz, a Santa Fe attorney hired by APS to help negotiate the settlement.
“Denials in these circumstances are unusual because by the time the resolution agreement reaches the Secretary of Education, it has been carefully reviewed and assessed by both parties, examined for impacts on students, and has been assessed and approved by a district court judge,” Ortiz said. “Therefore, the Secretary is reviewing an agreement that has been extensively vetted, and generally, that process results in an agreement that withstands PED scrutiny as well.”
He said the district plans to submit the settlement to the court next week.
Ortiz said, however, that neither the court nor PED would be given the investigation report done by an attorney who was retained by APS Board President Analee Maestas. Maestas said she hired lawyer Agnes Padilla to investigate a “serious personnel matter” concerning Brooks.
A PED spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on what Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera might do.
“We still haven’t received any documents relating to the buyout, nor an official request to approve it. That being understood, it would be impossible to predict what documentation might be submitted in conjunction with the settlement agreement in order to fulfill the statutory requirements, so we cannot comment at this time,” said PED spokeswoman Aimee Barabe on Thursday.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government this week called on APS to release the report involving Brooks, which it said is a public document.
Public bodies like APS and PED should not approve settlement agreements that keep a public record secret, said FOG Executive Director Susan Boe on Thursday.
Boe said APS might have had good reasons to approve the settlement agreement, but those reasons should be made public.
“The public deserves to decide whether APS was right,” she said.
According to state administrative rules, the settlement must first be approved by the 2nd Judicial District and then by the Public Education Department, which Skandera heads.
FOG has said the public deserves to know what prompted the divorce between Brooks and APS.
However, the school board has said the report is both a confidential personnel matter and subject to attorney-client privilege. School board president Analee Maestas hired private attorney Agnes Padilla to investigate the personnel issue in July.
The settlement agreement calls for Padilla’s report to be placed in a secret file, separate from Brooks’ regular personnel file.
The state rules governing settlement agreements for school officials require requests for the education secretary’s approval be accompanied by a detailed statement outlining the dispute between the board and the administrator.
Ortiz said he believes the district would have a right to appeal if the secretary or the court denied the settlement.
“Certainly, I think there are always appeal options,” he said.
Earlier this week, attorneys for the Journal sent a letter to APS challenging the district’s refusal to release the report.
The letter from Journal attorney Charles Peifer says the personnel exemption provides only limited exemption for letters or memos that are matters of opinion. The letter points out that while the report may include some opinion, which can be redacted, it also likely contains factual material based on witnesses, dates and documents.
The letter also contests APS’ denial based on attorney-client privilege. The letter says that although the report was prepared by an attorney, it does not cloak its entire contents under that privilege. To the extent that the report contains facts, those should be released.
The letter seeks the report or a response within five days, which would be Tuesday.
APS Board members have said they plan to hire an interim superintendent as early as today. They also said it could take up to a year to hire a permanent replacement.
Board reviews applications for interim superintendent
The Albuquerque Public Schools board met Thursday night in closed session to review the résumés of the 10 people who applied to become the district’s interim superintendent, said APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta. Of the applicants, the board chose to interview four today in closed session. The board expects to name an interim superintendent today.
The four candidates are:
- David Atencio, a former Jemez Valley superintendent from 2008 to 2013. He has served in the Laguna Department of Education from 2013 to the present.
- Diego Gallegos, owner of AMADO Consulting, and a former APS assistant superintendent for school and community support from 2008 to 2012. Before that, he was the APS assistant superintendent for continuous improvement from 2005 to 2008.
- Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. Garcia was the state’s education secretary from 2003 to 2010. From 2010 to 2011, she was CEO and president of Comprehensive Consulting Services. Garcia has also worked in APS, including a stint as Rio Grande High School principal from 1992 to 1995.
- Brad Winter, APS Chief Operating Officer from 2008 to May 2014 (retired). Prior to becoming COO, Winter also oversaw the district’s master plan, and its maintenance and operations department. He began his career at APS in 1992 as a dean of students at Highland High School.