Sherry Robinson 2019


© 2019 New Mexico News Services 2-4-19
If you hold it they will come: Teachers speak out at Saturday legislative hearing
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            Teachers and the public got a rare opportunity last Saturday to weigh in on education issues before the Legislature.
          They had plenty to say after eight years of controversial policies from the state Public Education Department, budget cuts, the landmark Yazzie-Martinez vs. New Mexico lawsuit ruling that the state had failed its children, and the new governor’s proposed education “moon shot.”
          For five hours, at two minutes each, a stream of mostly teachers filed before the House and Senate education committees to offer their thoughts on a range of education matters.
          So who gives up a Saturday to drive to Santa Fe and have their two-minute say? The best.
           Many described themselves as exemplary teachers under the existing measures. A few had been named a teacher of the year. Most had been teaching for years and had advanced degrees. Some had been administrators.
          They spoke well, they’d done their homework, and they knew their students.
          The current teacher evaluation system came in for much comment. One teacher worried about fellow teachers who were “persecuted” by the evaluation system. Another called the system “punitive” and added, “I was evaluated by a principal who didn’t show up.” A third described evaluations as “inconsistent.”
           SB 247 would establish an evaluation system by law. It would allow evaluations every three years for experienced teachers. Several teachers said all teachers should be evaluated every year and that PED should make the change by rule.
          “An effective evaluation provides feedback and an opportunity to grow,” said a teacher. “It’s important that teachers be held accountable.”
           Regarding pay, they talked about teachers who don’t make a living wage, who have 300,000 miles on their cars, who qualify for Medicaid. A teacher who received merit pay said she didn’t support merit pay. “All teachers deserve a living wage,” she said.
           Many teachers spoke out for their fellow school employees.
           “We need counselors, social workers, nurses, and librarians to do our jobs,” said one. “We need our custodians and cafeteria workers to earn a decent wage.”
          A school nurse said, “Nurses make a difference. Counselors make a difference, but every year we get left out of pay increases.”
           The governor and lawmakers have both proposed pay increases for school employees.
           There was a lot of support for HB 77, which steers more funding to the classroom instead of the administration. This is a priority bill for Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan think tank, which studied education spending and found that between 2006-2007 and 2016-2017, administrative spending grew faster than classroom spending in more than two-thirds of the state’s school districts.
          “I was troubled to learn that administrative spending has grown 37 percent and salary increases were 14 percent,” compared with far smaller increases for classrooms and teacher pay, said a teacher. “There’s no reason administrative costs should grow faster than classroom costs.”
          Teachers and parents at charter schools advocated for parent choice and opposed the cap on charter schools in HB 5 and SB 1. They also support SB 245, which would improve charter school facilities.
          Similarly, a number of educators opposed capping public education at 22 and said that provision in two bills would close down adult programs in jails and other facilities.
          Most of the speakers were from the state’s largest cities. Teachers from rural areas spoke loud and clear for career-technical education.
          A teacher from a small school said: “We have to do more for our kids. We don’t even have a nurse. We don’t have librarians.”
          Legislators and committee members deserve a pat on the back for holding a Saturday hearing for people who can’t attend hearings on work days. Judging by the response, teachers appreciated the gesture.

 


​© 2019 New Mexico News Services   1-28-19
Lawmakers move a bill to block teachers from withholding bathroom privileges
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            Sometimes, a law gets passed to fill in for the absence of good sense.
            Take Senate Bill 26, for example. It would require the state Public Education Department to prevent teachers from punishing kids by withholding bathroom privileges.
            Joan Day Baker testified last week that her third grade son was coming home with wet pants because the teacher told him he couldn’t use the bathroom.
          “He has bladder spasms,” she said. “He needs to go.”
          Baker, an early childhood education expert and member of the governor’s transition team, began checking. She found others with the same complaint, including a mom in the Albuquerque area whose daughter was having repeated bladder infections because she wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom. She also learned that the ACLU asked that the California Bill of Rights guarantee students’ bathroom privileges.
          “This is a national problem,” she told the Senate Education Committee.
          Baker took the matter to Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, who made international headlines two years ago with his “lunch shaming” bill, forbidding schools from denying lunch to a kid whose parents owed money at the cafeteria.
          SB 26 would require PED to set a policy for bathroom use in the schools that would take into account a student’s age, special needs, and physical impairments. The department would need the input of pediatricians, child psychologists and early childhood educators. Teachers couldn’t disallow bathroom privileges or deny other privileges if they suspected inappropriate bathroom use. However, PED would allow “incremental and respectful intervention” in the event somebody was gaming the system.
            At this point in the hearing, I was thinking, what kind of teacher tells a child he can’t go to the bathroom? And do we really need a law for this?
            I asked an old friend who taught high school math for decades and finished her long career as a teaching coach.
            “I’ve seen this before, many times,” she said. “It’s a power trip by a teacher who wants control, but how hard is it to control an 8-year-old? It’s not even that hard to control high school kids.”
          She described the chain of events even though she wasn’t familiar with Baker. “So she begins to make phone calls. Then she gets her friends to make phone calls. Then she talks to her legislator.”
            Problems like this can be solved by “treating kids like people,” she said, and by remembering that “this is somebody’s child.”
          Back in the hearing room, another mom testified that her 6-year-old was coming home with wet pants even though he used the toilet at home without accidents.
          Adrian Carver, of Equality New Mexico, said, “I love this bill.”
          Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, didn’t love the bill. He said he could support a bill saying that bathroom privileges shouldn’t be used as punishment, but the bill goes too far. His wife, who’s a teacher, said it’s a slap in the face to teachers.
          “What about the student who abuses privileges?” Brandt asked. “What if a kid’s already gone three times, and there’s nothing wrong with them?”
          Two years ago, it was Brandt who defied the previous governor and some in his own party with a bill allowing teachers to take all ten days of their sick leave without being penalized on their evaluations. When the bill was vetoed, Brandt led an effort to override that succeeded in the Senate but not the House. The same bill is on a fast track this year.
          Some committee members thought school districts, rather than PED, should set policy. Others questioned whether it really required expert input.
          Good point. Do we need people with advanced degrees to advise us that when a kid’s gotta go, he’s gotta go?
          Five of nine committee members thought so. The bill passed.

 © 2019 New Mexico News Services 1-21-19
Spending smarter, not just spending more, occupies lawmakers
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            With Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature and a new Democratic governor, the fear is that they’ll go on a “spending spree.” This is the favorite phrase of Republicans, who regard themselves as a check on Democratic excesses.
            So let me assure you: There will be no spending spree because Democrats have the same fear.
          Last week I heard even the most liberal of Dems express a reluctance to spend the entire $1.1 billion surplus. So even with a high tide of spending bills, a great many will die in the budget process.
          And despite dire warnings from the Rs, we won’t see any showboat projects like the Rail Runner or the Spaceport. We will see attention to roads and bridges, school buildings, salaries, and rainy day funds.
            The real checks on spending will be the two budget committees and their strong-minded chairs. The Legislative Finance Committee has already done a lot of groundwork to help them all focus.
            Top of mind this year is the court decision in Yazzie-Martinez vs. New Mexico, in which a district court judge ruled that the state is failing its children by under-funding public education. The state must report back in April, which means the governor and Legislature must act in this session.
            In their proposed budgets, both branches substantially upped their education spending. While they differ in other areas, their education proposals are pretty similar.
          This is personal for the chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Rep. Patty Lundstrom. The Yazzie lawsuit originated in her district when Wilhelmina Yazzie, mother of three, grew frustrated with the scarcity of everything from textbooks to after-school programs in Gallup schools.
            The landmark lawsuit opened the curtain on years of education on the cheap, and the judge found the state in violation of its Constitution.
            One revelation during an HAFC hearing last week was the money wasted during the last eight-plus years. LFC staffers kept using the jargon “evidence-based” to emphasize the need to fund programs with a track record of working.
          It seems the Public Education Department was pumping money into programs with no evidence of their effectiveness and not even checking to see if schools were spending the money as intended. Both the Yazzie ruling and the LFC have called for more oversight by PED.
          Also, the school districts and charter schools were quite creative in manipulating the state’s funding formula to their own benefit. One bill, HB 5, ends that – until schools come up with new tricks.
          So this session isn’t entirely about spending. There’s serious emphasis on being smarter about existing education spending.
          Probably the biggest difference in the two budgets is the governor’s willingness to lift the $50 million cap on rebates to the film industry and pay off the $250 million backlog.
          Lundstrom said she needs to see the numbers. “I’m not sure we’re ready to lift the cap,” she told me. It doesn’t help that the industry hasn’t shown any love for her district in McKinley and San Juan counties, despite the area’s dramatic scenery.
          House Republican leaders Jim Townsend and Rod Montoya call the film rebate “corporate welfare.” That complaint didn’t fly eight years ago and still doesn’t. Media industries, as the sector is properly called, is a legitimate player in the state’s economy and one, I might add, that our young people stay to work for.
          However, it’s worth looking at the incentive. What are other states doing? What can we reasonably sustain?
          After eight years of cutting, of robbing Peter to pay Paul, the pent-up demand is such that even the penny-pinching Republicans would spend more on education and roads.
          Regardless of how lawmakers divvy up dollars, you can count on hearing about it in the 2020 elections.  

© 2019 New Mexico News Services  1-14-19
Former governor may be angling for a job in advocating for the wall 
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            The new governor visited the border, heard a briefing from Customs and Border Protection officials, met with the National Guard, and said, “I haven’t seen anything to indicate we have an emergent crisis here on the border.”
            The old governor said she thinks the president’s plan is “smart.”
            Who’s right? It depends on your political persuasion. Nationally, nearly three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (74%) support extending the wall, and 83 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners are opposed, according to the Pew Research Center.
            But ask yourself this: Who’s looking for a job?
            Former Gov. Susana Martinez has been trumpeting her “legacy.”
          A website, susanamartinez.com, says: “Governor Martinez took office when New Mexico was facing the largest budget deficit in state history, rampant corruption, chronically underperforming schools and an economy overly dependent on federal funding at a time when the federal government massively cut spending. She confronted these issues head-on, turning the largest budget deficit in state history into a record-breaking surplus (without raising taxes), restoring confidence in state government, enacting bold education reforms that resulted in the highest graduation rates in state history and unprecedented improvement in student test scores, and fundamentally changing and diversifying the state’s economy by growing the private sector…”
            In some parallel universe, New Mexico must have elected Superwoman.
            Here in this universe, legislative budget committees worked hard to keep our numbers in the black, and an oil boom blessed us with new revenues. She gets credit for not raising taxes, but in her pinched approach, she denied us the opportunity to increase desperately needed revenues in ways that wouldn’t have hurt New Mexicans.
          She didn’t restore confidence in state government – she eroded state government to the point that vacancies are at an all-time high and morale is at an all-time low. Her “bold education reforms” gave us eight years of controversial, top-down mandates and a teacher shortage. She can take credit for improved graduation rates, but the “unprecedented improvement” in test scores is a tiny percentage change that still doesn’t demonstrate the effectiveness of her changes.
          Martinez keeps telling us she’s diversified the economy, but it’s no more diversified than it was before, which is why New Mexico has the distinction of being the state most affected by the shutdown, according to WalletHub, which has pronounced many such dubious distinctions on the state.
          Her real legacy? Eight years of picking unnecessary fights with the other two branches of government, eight years of arbitrary and vindictive vetoes of bills that could have done some good, and eight years of slashed capital outlay and the economic stimulus that goes with them.
          It was like being tied to a chair and forced to watch “Mean Girls” endlessly.
          Leaving office with 35 percent approval ratings – even lower than the president’s – she’s not likely to run for office. And after her eight-year vendetta against the state’s courts, her prospects of practicing law here aren’t shiny.
            Now she emerges as a newly minted supporter of the president and his wall at a time when he could use a Hispanic friend, and she is, after all, the nation’s first Latina governor. That should be good for something. But not that long ago, Martinez objected to Trump’s remarks about Mexican immigrants and didn’t show up at his campaign appearances.
            After the 2014 elections, when Republicans cleaned up, I wrote that nobody should feel comfortable. Republican political consultant Frank Luntz observed profound voter dissatisfaction and frustration with Washington that had nothing to do with party.
            I wrote at the time “of a kind of snarling (public) expectation: Do something. Spare us your grandstanding and your petty little fights and solve some problems.”
            Sadly, this still applies.


​© 2019 New Mexico News Services 1-7-19
Past governors’ actions guarantee, even mandate, that Lujan Grisham will get more scrutiny
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
            If anybody thinks Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will get an easier ride from the media than her predecessor, they should rethink.
          Within days of her inauguration, the Associated Press reported that $25,000 in campaign donations were linked to one of the current racino bidders. And everybody reported the comments for and against ending PARCC testing.
            This is NOT necessarily a harbinger of things to come or a hint that the new governor is off to a shaky start. It’s just another work week for the new executive and the media who cover her.
            If anything, Lujan Grisham will get tougher scrutiny, and it’s because of the past three governors’ actions.
            Take the inauguration, for example. Gov. Susana Martinez’s inaugural committee raised nearly $1 million. The committee chair questioned some of the spending, and nobody knew where all of those dollars flowed. Not until 2016 and an FBI investigation did the Santa Fe New Mexican report that the governor’s advisor, Jay McCleskey, raked in $130,000.
          Other monies ended up in Martinez’s 2014 re-election campaign, despite fund raisers’ assurances to contributors, and this apparently was nothing new in the state.
            Martinez’s inaugural committee promised, but didn’t deliver, transparency about its spending. Lujan Grisham’s inaugural committee has said it would post financial details on a website. We’ll see.
            The state’s journalists have learned to pay closer attention to campaign funding and the many ways donors influence issues and decision making.
            The racino decision will get a hard look, and the governor can thank Martinez for the media breathing down her neck. That’s because Martinez received generous campaign contributions from two Louisiana developers who won a nice contract to lease State Fair land for their racino.
          Martinez said one had nothing to do with the other, but the Santa Fe Reporter in 2014 wrote that “money helped buy the Louisiana men access to Martinez that wasn't afforded to some of the working-class New Mexicans who protested a state-sanctioned gambling institution in their rough Duke City neighborhood.”
          Big-dollar state contracts, especially anything involving money management, get extra attention because of pay-to-play schemes during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration. After Richardson garnered national attention for his run for president, he remained in the national eye for having to step back from consideration as U. S. Commerce Secretary when pay-to-play became the big story. The state was still settling some of these cases in 2016.
          Jose Z. Garcia, a New Mexico State University government professor, wrote 10 years ago on NMPolitics.net that Richardson had raised such unprecedented amounts of money that he created a climate ripe for pay-to-play politics. Contributors got appointments “and in other ways appeared to receive a great deal of face time with Big Bill.”
           Lujan Grisham can expect everybody to have a lot to say about education. That goes back to Gov. Gary Johnson, whose idea of education reform was vouchers. One reason Richardson had so much wind in his sails coming into office was that, except for the narrow minority who agreed with Johnson, everybody else wanted a real reformer. And Richardson did support a bipartisan reform that passed the Legislature during his honeymoon period.
          Lujan Grisham considers testing so important, she got rid of PARCC tests even before having an education secretary in place. The tests have been so time-consuming and controversial that only two jurisdictions are still using them. Still, they had their supporters in New Mexico, and one was the group New MexicoKidsCAN whose executive director said debate about the PARCC tests has become politically driven. But so is nearly everything about education.
           So Lujan Grisham’s honeymoon, if she ever had one, is over. The new governor, like her predecessor, promises transparency. We’ll hold her to that.