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Editorial: Requirement for PED Hire Raises Questions

A politically connected insider might well have been the best hire for a Public Education Department position, but the fact that a revised job requirement put her in the driver’s seat hardly inspires confidence.

Stephanie Gardner is the new PED test coordinator, a $67,000-a-year classified job from which she can only be removed for cause under the state personnel system. She is the wife of Keith Gardner, a former legislator from Roswell and the governor’s chief of staff.

She meets all the requirements. In fact, she is the only one of the five finalists interviewed who did.

What set her apart was a new requirement adopted by the current administration calling for teaching experience in a core subject within the past 12 months. That was part of a reorganization that included several other job postings with new requirements.

Adding classroom experience as a factor for consideration is not a bad idea; knowing how testing works at ground level should be a plus. It’s the narrow one-year window that is questionable and which ensures a smaller pool of applicants. For example, qualified educators who have worked their way up from classroom to principal or administrator are out from the get-go. Unlike Gardner, the four who weren’t hired have years in testing and data analysis for the PED.

Gardner’s jump from middle school teacher and math department head to National Assessment of Educational Progress coordinator predictably drew fire from the union that represents many New Mexico teachers.

The 22 applicants were narrowed to five — even though four finalists clearly did not meet the teaching requirement. The PED hasn’t explained that in any way that would chase away the clouds of suspicion.

Instead, the PED spokesman harrumphed that of course the most qualified person was hired and that any hint of politics was an outrage — a famliar refrain from the last administration’s playbook.

Gardner has every right to compete for and win a state job — on a level playing field. The question is whether it was tailored for her. If there is a better explanation than the one given, it would be a good idea to lay it out. This administration campaigned against insider dealings under Richardson and Denish. It has set the standard it needs to follow.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.