By Tony Parra
Bill Richardson says he is serious about education reform and he will be in eastern New Mexico on Wednesday to explain why changes should be made.
Richardson will speak at 2:15 p.m. at Yucca Junior High School in Clovis and then at 4:30 p.m. at Portales High School. Officials said he will also answer questions about changes he is proposing to the state Constitution.
One proposed amendment would transfer the state Department of Public Education to a Cabinet department, headed by a secretary of public education.
Another would send more money directly into classrooms and raise teacher salaries by drawing funds from the state’s Permanent Fund.
The constitutional election is Sept. 23.
“Some people like one of the amendments, but do not like the other amendment,” Deputy Communications Director Gilbert Gallegos said. “In order for us to be serious about education reform, (the governor feels we) need to pass both amendments.”
Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, counts himself among those divided in their support. Moore agrees with Richardson that the current state school board is ineffective and ripe for change. He is opposed to boosting education with Permanent Fund dollars, calling it a “raid on our grandchildren’s permanent endowment,” in a recent letter to the editor of the Clovis News Journal.
Portales schools superintendent Jim Holloway said he has questions about Richardson’s plans.
“I need more clarifications on how these amendments are going to work,” he said. “What is going to happen in the future when the legislative body changes? Will that cause problems in our funding? How much power will the secretary of education have?”
The first amendment calls for elimination of the Superintendent of the Board of Education and the five members appointed by the governor to the State Board of Education.
“The secretary of education will report directly to the governor,” Gallegos said. “He will be more accountable and will have a direct line of communication to the governor. This eliminates any of the arguing that goes on between the superintendent and the board of education.”
Currently the State Board of Education consists of 15 members, 10 elected and five by the governor. The superintendent is Michael Davis.
The second amendment would increase school funds by drawing from the Permanent Fund, an endowment established when New Mexico became a state.
“The permanent school fund right now consists of $6.8 billion,” Gallegos said. “There would be an increase of 4.7 percent after one year and in a 12-year span (the school fund) would increase between 5 to 5.8 percent a year.”
Holloway said both issues have sparked debate in the community.
“A lot of people are unsure and hopefully the governor will provide them with clarification,” he said.