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Teachers union sues over evaluations

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s second-largest teachers union filed a lawsuit Monday, asking a judge to declare the state’s teacher evaluation system illegal.

In the suit, the National Education Association New Mexico argues state law gives school districts authority over teacher evaluations and the system Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera put in place last year takes away that local control. Skandera launched the system last school year under an administrative rule after legislators twice rejected the plan.

The state Public Education Department called it a “frivolous” challenge timed to the fall elections.

The court action, filed in the 1st Judicial District, asks a judge to declare the evaluation system illegal and to prevent its further use.

“With the support of Governor (Susana) Martinez, (Skandera) has unilaterally implemented a statewide teacher evaluation system. Her implementation of that system was done in violation of the New Mexico Constitution and in violation of state statute,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of NEA New Mexico.

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are state Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and two teachers – Deborah Romero, a third-grade teacher from Las Cruces, and Manessa Young Padilla, a high school math and science teacher from Los Lunas.

Teachers aren’t opposed to being evaluated, but many do oppose this particular evaluation system, Romero said.

“The truth is we want to be evaluated. We want to be able to identify strengths and weaknesses,” she said, adding she doesn’t believe the current system is fair or accurate.

The union said it opposes the use of value-added models – calculations that use test scores to rate teachers’ impact on classroom learning – because it does not believe they are accurate.

PED officials consistently have supported the use of value-added models, arguing they are an objective way to rate teachers.

“Not too long ago, the NEA agreed that New Mexico needed an evaluation system that put students first. Now, perhaps because of an upcoming election, they feel the need to frivolously challenge a system that has already won in the courts,” said PED spokesperson Larry Behrens in a statement.

“As we have said before, we will work to defend yet another attempt to uphold the old, broken system because our students deserve better.”

This is not the first legal challenge to the evaluation system.

In 2012, before the current evaluation system was put in place, the state and Albuquerque chapters of the American Federation of Teachers filed a petition with the state Supreme Court, asking the court to strike down the system on separation-of-powers grounds. The court rejected the petition.

And in September 2013, a cadre of state legislators, teachers unions and an individual teacher filed a petition in state court against the PED, seeking to halt the state’s new teacher evaluation system. District Court Judge Shannon Bacon denied that petition, and an appeal has been filed.