If Albuquerque Public Schools had fired Winston Brooks instead of spending $350,000 to buy out his contract, the district likely would have faced a long and expensive legal dispute, according to APS’ petition asking a judge to approve the settlement.
State District Judge Valerie A. Huling on Friday will review the settlement agreement the school board reached with Brooks on Aug. 15. The agreement includes Brooks’ resignation as superintendent and a lump sum payment to buy out the last two years of his contract. Brooks was set to earn a base salary of $250,000 in each of those years.
Huling could make a decision at the 8:30 a.m. hearing or rule at a later date, said Tony Ortiz, a Santa Fe attorney representing APS. If Huling approves the settlement, it would then go to the state Public Education Department for approval.
The district’s petition argues that firing Brooks would have resulted in hefty legal expenses and would have been a drain on district staff.
“The costs to the District and to Mr. Brooks would be substantial, in terms of both out-of-pocket expenses and, although less explicit but no less real, expenditures of time and effort by APS employees and Mr. Brooks,” it said.
The petition, in explaining why the board wanted to replace Brooks, said he and APS “have disagreements regarding the future path of the district.”
It does not, however, mention a report by Agnes Padilla, a private attorney who was hired to investigate an undisclosed personnel concern 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 Journal and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government have submitted separate requests for the report under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act, but APS has denied both. The district argues that the report is exempt from the act because it contains confidential personnel information protected by law and is subject to 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.
FOG, in a statement, said it did not believe “any public entity, including PED, should approve a settlement based on an investigation without disclosure of the investigative report itself, especially when it involves the unexplained payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the chief administrator of the state’s largest school district.”
APS school board member Marty Esquivel had been on FOG’s board of directors, but he resigned last week.
He said in a letter to the organization that he made the decision to spend more time with his family and law practice, but also voiced concern over FOG’s stance on the settlement agreement.
“For what it is worth, the decision by FOG to publicly lobby New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera in a press release about the approval of the APS settlement with Winston Brooks is highly unusual,” he wrote. He added, “While reasonable minds can differ, we can agree to disagree on this one.”