WNMU BoR Special Meeting Today

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So, it appears as though the Board of Regents are holding a special meeting today in Rio Rancho to again discuss President John Counts contract. According to this Daily Press article, several of the Regents realized their hasty decision extending the president’s contract might lead to unintended consequences: namely, Counts could receive a retention bonus twice!

This is an example of why the Regents should take the time to notify the community of their intentions, initiate a true dialog with residents in the area (and faculty and staff) and provide clear agendas with specific objectives. Something like this would have been avoided if others knowledgeable about contract issues had seen the proposal beforehand.

Sadly, the meeting will not be held in the Silver City-Grant County area – the Regents are meeting in Rio Rancho. IF you can manage to swing by the WNMU Administration building, and IF you can do that at the exact time of the meeting, and IF there’s enough room for you to sit in the ridiculously small Serna Conference Room, you can attend the meeting by phone. If not, you’ll have to hope a local reporter can make it to the meeting and report on it for you – they didn’t bother to implement any of my earlier suggestions.

Oh, and it looks like Regent President Tony Trujillo is still upset about the situation, and won’t attend the meeting. He questioned whether the original vote was legal (!) and said he thought the other regents may have discussed the vote before the Dec. 12 meeting.

I’ll have more on this when I hear about it.

Can we welcome WNMU to the 21st century?

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So, looks like the WNMU regents, absent their board president, decided to extend President John Counts’ contract another year. I remember when they gave him an extension in 04-05 (I was reporting for KNFT), great pains were made to indicate it would be the last time. The regents argued they needed to hike Counts’ pay so they could attract quality candidates to succeed him; they wanted to bring his salary in line with that of other New Mexico university presidents; and they wanted to give him a better retirement package.

Then, in 2006 (IIRC), they upped the salary again, extended the contract further, and even included a retention bonus.

Rinse, repeat, in 2008.

Faculty are likely upset, but that’s not even the most egregious part of the story. ((Honestly, they should be angry – they’re always drawing the short straw on the salary front, but Counts continues to receive raises and contract extensions. But that’s another blog post.))  The real news is that Board of Regents President Tony Trujillo was unaware that the contract extension would be on the agenda until the day of the vote:

“The first time I saw the agenda item under New Business … was this morning at the work session,” Trujillo said on Friday. “The item was not on the agenda we discussed a week ago.”
Trujillo said he had met with Counts a week earlier, on Friday, Dec. 5, to discuss the agenda before it was released, as per the Board of Regents’ handbook.
“I can’t participate in being railroaded into an agenda item I didn’t know about,” Trujillo said. “I’m not going to participate in a public forum where I have issues.”

Now, WNMU is going to say it violated no laws about public meetings and that it posted an amended agenda at the proper times, but you know what? If the board president doesn’t know in advance, how is the public supposed to know?

Time and again, the WNMU Board of Regents has stifled public comment, obfuscated when possible, and violated the public trust. Staff of the school (whom also serve the Board when it is in session) work diligently to ensure that state and federal open meetings and open records acts are followed to the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Holding quarterly meetings in Santa Fe, cramming work sessions into the tight conference room in the administration building, and limiting public input time during meetings are just a few of the measures that, when viewed together, seem to indicate an aversion to public dialogue and openness.

I haven’t really been around for the past two years, but reading stories like the one in today’s Daily Press sure doesn’t lead me to think that the school, its leaders, or staff have taken steps to involve the community or be more transparent. So, here are a few tips (specifically for Regents-related issues):

  1. Agendas should be published early and online, and include meeting materials (reports or presentations).
    • For something like the president’s contract exentsion, this should include information on salary ranges for comparable institutions within in the state and region. Faculty should have been consulted, and the results of any feedback they generate should be provided to Regents and the public. In addition, there should be a detailed plan in place to begin a search for a successor, and that should be an action item as well.
    • Other materials, like reports on asset disposal, tuition increases, etc., should also be prepared in advance and made available to the public in an electronic format.
  2. Then, encourage interested parties to provide advance feedback electronically (via e-mail) or in the form of a written letter. Give this feedback to the Regents during the work session. That way, a dialogue can exist that isn’t limited to 15 minutes at the end of a 2-hour meeting.
  3. WNMU constantly highlights its distance-learning initiatives – why not stream board meetings online so people can watch from across the state? It’s cheap and WNMU already has the tech (or should). That way, even if Regents have to meet in a small room or in Santa Fe (or elsewhere), interested parties and the public can see what’s happening.
  4. Audio recordings of board meetings and work sessions should be posted online in MP3 or similar format, so members of the community can review what happened.

These are all really, really easy to do, and would go a long way toward engaging the comunity in the University’s affairs in a positive and constructive way. But, I have a feeling it will be business as usual – like it’s been since 1993.

New Richardson ad on education released

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Richardson continues his Iowa onslaught with a new ad touting his education record in New Mexico, according to The Hill’s blog:

Richardson promises he will get rid of No Child Left Behind, create a minimum wage for teachers, make pre-k and kindergarten available to all children and create math and science academies throughout the United States.


The ad appears to be tied with a new website outlining Richardson’s planned education initiatives.

On Second Tier Candidates

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Dana Goldstein writes this week about the issues some second-tier candidates are talking about in their bids to move up with the big boys. She mentions Bill Richardson several times, most notably in his talk of New Mexico’s system of paying teachers:

After the debate, leading education blogger Alexander Russo reported that a Santa Fe New Mexican reporter emailed him to say Richardson’s claims were somewhat overblown: The minimum salary for New Mexico public school teachers isn’t $40,000 but $30,000, with a three-tiered evaluation system for salary increases based on performance. New Mexico is one of only a few states to experiment with merit pay for teachers, a move traditionally opposed by powerful teacher’s unions. Indeed, linking teacher pay to metrics like student scores on standardized tests could penalize the professionals willing to take on the toughest assignments teaching the most underprivileged children.

But while tying teacher pay to performance is controversial, it’s understood that the tenure system gives too many bad teachers a free pass. So compromises in which unions win higher starting salaries and benefits like housing vouchers (many teachers can’t afford to live in the communities in which they work) in exchange for administrators having the power to remove the worst teachers from the classroom, regardless of tenure status, amount to a move in the right direction.

Richardson’s sense of urgency on education reform should be applauded. Perhaps it’s because as a governor, he’s one of the few candidates in the Democratic field with hands-on experience crafting education policy.

There’s lots more, so check it out. Also, check out Heath’s speculation that Richardson may be moving up to the big leagues anyway, so this “second-tier” talk might be a thing of the past.

No Child Left Behind: what a sham

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I don’t think that standards for schools are necessarily bad. Still, Kevin is on to something here:

The question is whether NCLB’s requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 is achievable, and the answer, as almost everyone in the article acknowledges, is no. 100% isn’t achievable for anything. Everyone knows that.
[…] Question: Why would NCLB mandate an obviously unmeetable standard? And now that it’s up for renewal, why would Republicans continue to insist on that obviously unmeetable standard?

Answer: Because the 100% goal isn’t just rhetorical. It comes with penalties. If you don’t meet the standard, you lose money, you’re officially deemed a “failing school,” and your students are eligible to transfer to other schools. And needless to say, by 2014 there won’t be any satisfactory public schools to send them to because 99% of them won’t have met the standard.

Followup bonus question: What incentive does anyone have to label 99% of America’s public schools as failures? That’s crazy, isn’t it?

Answer: Anyone who wants the public to believe that public schools are failures. This would primarily consist of conservatives who want to break teachers unions and evangelicals who want to build political momentum for private school vouchers. The whole point of NCLB for these people is to make sure that as many public schools as possible are officially deemed failures.

Education in New Mexico: is it getting better?

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Depends on who you ask, and the yardstick you use, apparently:

Many New Mexico students start out life behind, enter schools that aren’t well-prepared to help them and receive little support in moving from education to a career, a report said Wednesday.

Education Week, in its Quality Counts 2007 report, ranked New Mexico last in the nation on a new Chance for Success index, which rated all 50 states on how well they give their young people an opportunity to succeed later in life.

Quality Counts ranked New Mexico 47th in academic performance of elementary and secondary students and 39th in aligning education from early childhood programs to a career.

New Mexico falls below the national average in preschool enrollment; high school graduation rates; reading and math proficiency; enrollment in post-secondary education; family income; and the percentage of parents who work full time, have a degree and speak English fluently.

“Other states are able to pull themselves out of a tailspin through a stronger educational system and opportunities later on” but those aren’t seen in New Mexico, said project director Chris Swanson.

Bad news, right? Well, let’s keep reading:

[NM Education Secretary Veronica Garcia] cited steps toward more pre-kindergarten; implementation of full-day kindergarten; efforts to make the system seamless from pre-kindergarten through college; improved access to technology, particularly by children in poor areas; and improved nutrition by getting junk food out of schools.

She also cited New Mexico’s economy: 10th in the nation for economic growth, 9th for personal income growth; the 11th-highest job growth; and a November unemployment rate of 4.3 percent.

In the past, Education Week graded states on academic achievement and standards in elementary and secondary schools. Last year, New Mexico scored a B on the education trade journal’s overall report card and an A for standards and accountability.

Garcia is likely correct, even if she is spinning. The latest report tears into New Mexico for pre-school enrollment, among other things. The state has been working for the last few years on improving that, and full-day kindergarten will help kids who didn’t attend pre-school. Still, the state has a long way to go toward a true P-16 (pre-kindergarten through college) education system, an approach adopted by many other states but only recently here in New Mexico. This report confirms that.

Hat tip to Headwaters News.