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Windblown N.M. Goes Bonkers

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
          I've been thinking about the wind lately. And by thinking about the wind, I mean hating it, cursing it and blaming it for everything that goes wrong.
        There is a reason New Mexico in April is never featured on Tourism Department brochures. Who wants to see people picking sand out of their ears, fences piled high with tumbleweeds and fast-food wrappers dancing down the highway like members of the touring cast of "Cabaret"?
        In addition to picking up tons of grit and garbage from the Arizona state line and moving it over to the Texas state line and then moving it all back again, the wind makes people nuts.
        Yes, it will loosen your screws and knock you off your rocker. It will drive your train off the track and turn you dippy, loony and screwy.
        Did I mention cuckoo? The wind will gladly make you that, too, just as soon as it finishes blowing some bats into your belfry and the cheese clear off your cracker.
        If you have lived here long, you are surely familiar with the body of evidence that New Mexico's winds cause good sense to blow away on a long spring vacation.
        How else to explain the Scott Owens' acquittal? La Cueva High School sportsmen opting for a "big bong" break before practice? The city of Santa Fe canning the Easter bunny?
        How else to explain The Great April Funding Unit Witch Hunt?
        This sideshow to the state's education crisis begins with the state's Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera late in the budget process discovering higher-than-expected enrollment numbers of special education students and a jump in the numbers of teachers with advanced training — both more costly — that will mean cuts to school districts' funding could be even worse than expected in the coming fiscal year.
        There are some legitimate ways those numbers could jump. Maybe school districts are doing a better job of identifying students in need of special ed, resulting in those costly extra 7,900 "funding units." Maybe more teachers sought more training to raise their salaries in difficult economic times.
        But on April 14, Secretary-designate Skandera said she smelled a rat.
        "There is no doubt in my mind we have some folks who have not represented their data accurately," she said.
        To find the cheaters, Skandera decided to audit every district that saw a large jump in funding units — almost a third of the state's school districts. She named each of the districts being audited and then said she was confident they were not all guilty.
        (It should not surprise you to learn that around this time the National Weather Service was issuing high-wind warnings for most of the state and gusts were reaching 50 to 65 mph.)
        "I know there are not 34 districts 'gaming the system' in New Mexico," she said. "This audit is designed to clear those who turn in honest data and put the spotlight on those who don't."
        By today we should all know which districts snared in the audit net were found to be cheating and which ones were named as suspects only to be cleared.
        By this windblown approach, if we had our suspicions that one person in the state Public Education Department has been watching the movie "Mean Girls" way too often, we might publicly name a third of PED employees as possible suspects and then assure everyone that most of those names would soon be cleared of suspicion while we put the spotlight on the guilty party.
        But we would never do that. Unless the wind had blown our good sense all the way to Tucumcari.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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