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Education Panel Redistricting

The first redistricting bill moving through the Legislature redraws the boundaries of a low-profile education commission with missing members and a history of problems attracting candidates.

The remapping of the Public Education Commission was ready for a vote by the full Senate after the Judiciary Committee endorsed the plan Thursday.

“I kind of thought we had done away with this board,” a puzzled Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, told the panel Thursday.

The commission is an outgrowth of a voter-approved restructuring of the public education bureaucracy that was pushed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2003.

The elected state Board of Education was abolished in favor of a Cabinet-level state education secretary answerable to the governor.

But lawmakers — some of them worried that the new arrangement would leave rural areas without a voice in Santa Fe — decided there should be an elected panel, and created the Public Education Commission.

Its duties were largely advisory until, in 2006, it was given the job of reviewing applications for charter schools and deciding whether to approve them.

Charter school applicants may go either to their local school districts or to the commission to apply for, or renew, charters.

The unsalaried commission has had trouble attracting candidates. In the 2006 general election, for example, there were candidates in only three of the five PEC races on the ballot, and they were unopposed. Two years before that, three of five positions had no candidates for November until write-in candidates filed.

There are currently two vacancies on the 10-member commission, because there were no candidates on the ballot for those slots in 2010. It’s up to Gov. Susana Martinez to fill the vacancies.

The plan approved by the Judiciary Committee that was headed to the Senate floor would put two current PEC members in the same district: Carla Lopez of Santa Fe and Jeff Carr of Eagle Nest. That’s because the plan would put the city of Santa Fe into Carr’s district to the north. Lopez and Carr would have to run against each other in 2012 if they wanted to remain on the commission.

The plan passed the Judiciary Committee over the objections of Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who complained that it would split the Santa Fe area by putting some communities close to the city — including Eldorado and Arroyo Hondo — into a district to the south that stretches all the way to Bernalillo, Placitas and north Rio Rancho.

The bill is Senate Judiciary Committee substitute for Senate Bill 11.

A similar PEC plan has cleared the House Voters and Elections Committee and was awaiting action by the House Judiciary Committee.

House Education Committee Chairman Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, said some last-minute changes were being made to House Bill 16 to eliminate the Lopez-Carr pairing.
— This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal