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Consultants to the Public Education Department have been in the news the past few weeks.
Use of the consultants has been called everything from a waste of money to insulting to a scam, the latter epithet coming from an Albuquerque Journal columnist.
Before addressing the charges, consider public education in New Mexico. In general, we spend more money and get less than nearly every state.
According to the National Education Association, during 2009 we spent $10,999 for each student in our public K-12 schools.
That’s 11 percent of our personal income, says the National Center for Education Statistics. For that money, we are 48th in the percentage of public school eighth graders reading at the appropriate level. Not quite 62 percent of high school students graduate, reports the center.
In comes Gov. Susana Martinez, who decides fresh leadership is needed for education in New Mexico, an insight comparable in obviousness to the decision to bring outside leadership to the bankrupt General Motors.
Martinez found Hanna Skandera, a 30-something former education department administrator for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who did good things for public education.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson’s Public Education Department was authorized for 19.4 exempt, i.e. political, employees, including the department secretary.
Martinez told new cabinet secretaries to cut 20 percent of the exempt jobs. Skandera cut more.
An immediate problem was policy development. Skandera’s appointment was announced Dec. 21. The legislature began Jan. 18. In such situations, consultants are the solution for organizations, public and private. Get talented people to put the policy outlines in place and pay them well.
Had the Richardson political appointees remained employed through June 30, the end of the budget year, $300,000 of taxpayer money would have been spent. No one, no reporter, no union leader, would have said a word about spending that $300,000. Certainly no one said anything about spending this money when Richardson was governor.
That $300,000 might be called “found money.” Skandera is spending about half of it on her consultants. With the consultants duly hired, a news release dated Feb. 9 was posted on the department’s website and sent to the department’s media contact list, said Kristy Campbell, the consultant handing communications.
Two days later, an Albuquerque Journal reporter talked to Campbell. It was another two days before the story made the paper.
A major criticism was that the consultants were from outside New Mexico. Ignoring the parochialism, if an organization is in a mess, inside people seem to be the least likely candidates to save the day. I also suspect that the ostracism laid on a New Mexico educator publicly advocating change would have been heavy and ugly.
Campbell says all sorts of people in education around New Mexico are providing counsel to Skandera. There is good dialogue. To say otherwise just is not true, Campbell says.
The criticism from Christine Trujillo, president of New Mexico’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, brought the parochialism to near comic levels.
In a statement posted on AFT’s website, Trujillo said, “You can’t copy and paste an education agenda for New Mexico’s kids that outside consultants have used elsewhere. Our students and teachers need education leaders who come from New Mexico and understand the unique needs of our state’s children.”
Trujillo fails to list the unique needs that exist just because a child is in New Mexico. Trujillo in effect claims a kid in Texico has needs differing from those in Farwell, Texas. Or a Trinidad, Colo., child is different from one in Raton. Or Las Cruces differs from El Paso.
Under the Richardson administration, Trujillo and her buddies spent money while retaining performance at the bottom. Skandera seeks the Martinez “bold change” and seems to be doing what is needed. This ain’t no scam.
NM News Services