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Thursday, March 6, 2003

Gov. Fights Plan for Strong Education Board

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday said he would campaign against a proposed constitutional amendment to create a governor-appointed secretary of public education if it would also establish a policy-making education commission.
    The House Education Committee on Wednesday endorsed a Senate-passed constitutional amendment (committee substitute for SJR 2, 5, 12 and 21) but changed a proposed 10-member, elected Public Education Commission from advisory to policy-making.
    New Mexico currently has a policy-making state Board of Education with 10 elected members and five members appointed by the governor.
    Richardson said he would support a proposal to eliminate the state board or create an advisory panel. But the Democratic governor said he feared a policy-making board might thwart the education secretary's initiatives.
    "We don't need a policy-making board standing in the way of reform," Richardson said at a Capitol news conference. "The policy-making board is a structure of the past that didn't work, and I will not accept it."
    Constitutional amendments are subject to approval by legislators and voters but do not require the governor's consent.
    Rep. Rick Miera, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairman of the House Education Committee, said House Democrats decided to back a policy-making board because they felt it was important to give voters a say in education policy.
    Richardson had called on legislators to send him a package of education reform measures, including the education secretary proposal, by the middle of this week.
    The measures include bills (SB 845, committee substitute for HB 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9) to pay for a 6 percent pay raise for teachers and most instructional support staff and a 3 percent raise for other school employees.
    Richardson said he is negotiating with senators over a proposed constitutional amendment (floor substitute for SJR 6) to increase the annual income distribution from the $6.3 billion land grant permanent fund. The governor said he is willing to compromise on the amount of the increase and whether it would be permanent.
    The proposal is estimated to generate $77.2 million in the next fiscal year for public schools.
    The Senate narrowly defeated the proposal last week but may reconsider it.