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APS board leaders criticize Korte

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Public Schools board executive committee has sent a letter to board member Kathy Korte saying she violated APS’ code of ethics when she reprimanded spokeswoman Monica Armenta in recent emails.

KORTE: Was upset with public relations worker

KORTE: Was upset with public relations worker

“Your concerns regarding APS employees should be addressed to the Superintendent and you should not by-pass the superintendent in this regard,” the letter stated. “Moreover, when the communications are threatening or intimidating toward fellow Board members or APS employees, as we believe these latest emails were, they undermine the ability of the Board to work in harmony for the good of the district.”

The letter, which was delivered to Korte on Tuesday, was signed by the three members of the board’s executive committee – President Analee Maestas, Vice President Don Duran and Secretary Steven Michael Quezada.

APS released the letter late Wednesday following a Journal request.

The letter was in response to two emails Korte sent Armenta several weeks ago, criticizing the spokeswoman for asking an employee questions that Korte deemed inappropriate.

Armenta sent copies of the emails to the school board last week along with a letter saying she felt bullied and threatened by Korte’s emails.

A call made to Korte on Wednesday was not returned.

“I do hate meddling in APS employee affairs,” Korte said in one of the emails, but she went on to write she deemed it necessary in this case.

MAESTAS: Among three who signed letter

MAESTAS: Among three who signed letter

Korte said in her email to Armenta that “political forces are out there against me and anyone affiliated with me – even within APS.”

Korte is running in a school board race against Peggy Muller-Aragón.

In her email to Armenta, Korte said Armenta should not be asking Maralyn Beck, who has social media responsibilities, whether she or a family member works for Stand4KidsNM or Korte’s election campaign. Stand4KidsNM is an educational advocacy group Korte helps run that has taken strong positions against several state education reforms.

In one of her emails, Korte told Armenta she advised Beck to seek “legal counsel.” She pointed out that she, herself, has filed a lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Hospital and has “no problem helping APS employees file EEOC complaints against APS administration officials.”

In an interview Monday, Maestas said board members “are not to be involved in any personnel issues. All complaints about an employee need to go through our superintendent.”

Duran and Quezada, who also signed the letter, did not return phone calls for comment.

Their letter to Korte said that if she chose not to alter her behavior, “the executive committee’s concerns will be brought to the full board for consideration of formal action by the Board of Education regarding your refusal or inability to adhere to these standards.”

The letter was also sent to the full board.

Board member Marty Esquivel said Wednesday that for a board member to reprimand an employee directly, as Korte did, is “tremendously inappropriate.”

Esquivel said it is important that other board members respond in a “swift and firm” manner so other employees can be assured a similar thing won’t happen to them.

The executive committee’s letter told Korte her emails violated APS’ code of ethics, which states board members should “delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent and establish a process for accountability of administrators.”

Joe Guillen, executive director of the New Mexico School Boards Association, said as a general rule of thumb it is better for board members to address concerns with specific employees through their superintendents.

“The only employee that the board has is the superintendent,” Guillen said, explaining in New Mexico superintendents are charged with overseeing the daily operations of their districts.

“It’s very unfortunate,” board member Lorenzo Garcia said of Korte’s decision to send the angry emails to Armenta. “We all make mistakes. And some of us can make them more than once before we learn from them … (Korte is) a good and decent person.”

Garcia said he doesn’t think a letter was necessary, but rather the board should discuss the matter in a board meeting.

“We need to talk about it,” he said.

Board member David Peercy said personnel complaints should be referred to the superintendent, but he also said this situation has been blown out of proportion.

“It’s not a big deal, and that’s the point,” Peercy said. “You’ve got to realize just because we have things we need to discuss – it’s OK.”

“I have no idea what board member Korte was specifically upset about,” Armenta said in an interview Friday.

In one of the emails Korte sent, she said she was “compiling a list of grievances and I will take action against anyone on the APS payroll who dares make life miserable for other APS employees who dare to be supportive of me and the grass-roots efforts of Stand4KidsNM.”

Korte also said she planned to address her concerns about some fellow board members with the Attorney General’s Office.