Governor names 100-person education task force

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Two state senators representing eastern New Mexico and a Portales school teacher are among 100 people on a committee appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson to recommend changes in the state’s education system and the agency that runs it.
Richardson said he is reaching out to rural residents who rebuffed his school proposals in the recent constitutional amendment elections. More than half the task force is from rural areas, and it includes opponents of the two amendments.
Sen. Clint Harden of Clovis wasn’t one of those opponents, but he said he will take into account the overwhelming rejection of both proposals by Curry County residents as he serves on the committee.
“When I got a call I was going to be appointed, I was excited. It gives me an opportunity to serve on the committee to ensure that local control remains a significant piece in the new education agenda,” Harden said.
Voters on Sept. 23 approved — by 55 percent of the vote — a constitutional change creating a cabinet-level secretary of education, answerable to the governor.
A second amendment, increasing the payout to schools from a state permanent fund, apparently has squeaked through. Election results will be official Oct. 14.
Harden said he voted for both amendments in the Senate because he wanted to let voters decide the issues; he said he personally favors them and appeared with Richardson in efforts to promote the changes.
However, Harden said he wants to bring an emphasis on fiscal responsibility to the committee.
“We need to be prudent and vigilant with the money and that is something I have always believed as a fiscal conservative,” Harden said. “My second issue with the task force (is) I think we really need to look at the funding formula. The funding formula has to be fair and has to be accurate.”
For Harden, accuracy means recognizing that not every district has the same needs.
“We have to recognize through our funding formula and through local sovereignty that the regions of New Mexico are different,” Harden said. “That’s the challenge of the task force, but I’m pleased that my voice will be heard and that rural New Mexico will have an opportunity to say on that committee the importance of local control.”
Other local members of the committee are Senate majority leader Stuart Ingle and teacher Gracy Leary, both from Portales.
In a Wednesday news conference in Santa Fe, the governor said respecting the views of rural residents was a major reason for creating the large committee with a heavy representation from rural New Mexico.
‘‘A lot of rural areas just felt very uncomfortable with both provisions. And so how do you alleviate that? You try to bring everybody together,’’ the governor said at a news conference Wednesday.
The task force will work for nine months to a year on a broad agenda that includes restructuring the state Department of Education and creating charter vocational high schools, Richardson said.
In just a few months — prior to January’s legislative session — it will make recommendations on the school system’s budget for next year and a rewrite of state laws on school governance, Richardson said.
The committee will be co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, a Republican who campaigned for the amendments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.