The Acting Secretary of Education in New Mexico is Hanna Skandera, who worked in Jeb Bush’s state department of education in Florida and also for Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She was appointed by the Republican governor but the Democratic-controlled State Senate has not confirmed her. Skandera wants to bring the “Florida model” to New Mexico.
Here is a news story about the hearings.
She has no classroom or school-level experience, but critics are worried about other issues as well.
Anthony Cody here takes a close look at Skandera’s record and supporters. This is a scenario that will be played out in state after state, as corporate interests and right-wing activists converge.
What follows now testimony submitted at public hearings by Michael Corwin, a New Mexico parent who is also a private investigator.
If Skandera wants to refute this testimony, I will gladly print her comments here.
Here is Corwin:
Hanna Skandera Senate Rules Committee Confirmation Hearing
March 1-2, 2013
Thank you for the opportunity to present information today. I am here today because I have a son in public school in New Mexico. His education and that of hundreds of thousands of other students requires that an assessment of Ms. Skandera’s management of the New Mexico Public Education Department (“PED”) be performed with the most complete information. She has been in office for over two years so there is a true track record of her performance.
Per Article XII, Section 6 the New Mexico Constitution requires the director to be a “qualified, experienced educator.” It is clear that Ms. Skandera lacks classroom, or school administration experience, so the question is whether her two years as secretary designate has dispelled concerns about her qualifications and experience, or reinforced her lack of those constitutional requirements.
The administration would like this hearing to be about “reform vs. status quo”, but it is about far more than that.
Policies are a critical component of determining what is best for our kids, but before we tackle policy we must first look at her operational actions for they reveal significant problems in the areas of misuse of public funds and resources, conflicts of interest, ethical lapses, procurement code violations, dismissiveness of minority education, including state laws, significant communication problems including refusing to meet with stakeholders, and an administration bent on concealing information.
The weight of these factors combined with the constitutional and policy concerns present a very clear picture that Ms. Skandera should not be confirmed.
MISUSE OF PUBLIC RESOURCES AND FUNDS:
1) Directed the entire PED IT Department to spend two full work-days combing through non-PED held information in order to “create lists” and a “new public record” for use by Governor Susana Martinez’s “key advisor” to use on a political attack against teachers’ unions opposed to the governor’s agenda. Misuse of government resources for political purposes may be a violation of the governmental conduct act.
Item # 1- Email string showing the actions were directed by Ms. Skandera.
Item # 2- Email response from PED that it does not create lists or create a new public record pursuant to an IPRA request except for the governor’s political benefit.
Item #3- SF New Mexican article on possible violation of law and secrecy. Item #4- ABQ Journal article on PED already having info in its own system.
2) Misused almost $2,000,000 in voter approved (by over 60%) GO Bond funds to reward A/B schools after the legislature rejected request for funds to reward “A” rated schools. Under SB 1 the “2010 Capital Projects General Obligation Bond Act” the legislature designated “two million dollars ($2,000,000) to purchase books and instructional material statewide.” (Emphasis added).
Ms. Amador-Guzman reported in an LESC meeting on 11/13-16/2012 that PED issued a memo announcing that it would give awards to purchase books and instructional materials to schools that received a letter grade of “A” or to “Top Growth” schools. “The funding source of the awards for those schools, Ms. Amador-Guzman said, was a general obligation (GO) bond authorized in 2010. Members of the LESC noted that the wording in the legislation for the bond was to provide funds to schools statewide. The chair of the LESC questioned the legality of using GO bonds for rewarding ”A” schools.
According to LESC minutes dated 6/18-20/2012, “Mr. Craig also noted that the 2012 Legislature did not appropriate $1.25 million that the executive had requested for monetary rewards for A-grade schools.”
PED may have broken the law, and clearly violated the voters trust, because the administration was denied funds to reward schools the way they do in Florida.
Legislation pushed by the administration to financially reward “A” schools was originated in draft legislation by Christy Hovanetz, a full-time salaried employee of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (“FEE”) on January 24, 2011. See below about contract payments made to Ms. Hovanetz by PED while she was still receiving her salary from FEE.
Item #5- LESC Minutes 11/13-16/2012
Item #6- LESC Minutes 6/18-20/2012
Item #7- Email w/ attachment from Christy Hovanetz to Hanna Skandera 1/24/11
3) Altered the job qualifications of the fully federally funded with Title I funds “Education Administrator-Advanced NAEP Coordinator” (A contractor position for the US Department of Education) in order to ensure that the position went to the wife of Keith Gardner, Governor Martinez’s chief of staff. A string of emails show that Gardner was kept in the loop for the hiring of his wife—a direct financial benefit — a conflict of interest under federal procurement rules.
The job qualifications for this advanced administrator position were altered to require classroom teaching experience within the previous 12 months and eliminated an educational requirements for course work in statistics or assessment. Requiring recent classroom experience eliminated anyone who worked as an administrator within the last year including the acting administrator, who had extensive administration experience. Despite several very qualified applicants only Ms. Gardner was deemed qualified.
Item #8- Email (Gardner/Skandera)- Skandera Request Letter for Position Item #9A-D- Job Descriptions changes 2011 vs. 2010, 2007,2006.
Item # 10- Federal contracting conflict of interest definition.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST/ETHICS ISSUES:
1) Paid Christy Hovanetz over $86,000 as a contract consultant. Hovanetz was at the same time a full-time paid senior fellow at Foundation for Excellence in Education (“FEE”) who lives in Minnesota. Hovanetz used boilerplate legislation from FEE (below) to draft all of the Martinez admin education reform bills. FEE paid for Skandera’s travel during the contract with Hovanetz while Skandera used its services to prepare the reform bill.
FEE was formed by Jeb Bush, Zachariah P. Zachariah and Brian Yablonski. Zachariah was sued by the SEC for fraudulent insider trading and sued in a class action lawsuit for refusing to pay legally required overtime to his employees. Yablonski was a long-term board member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission—which a Florida grand jury found rife with “massive fraud and abuse”, which was “so prevalent that it had to be common knowledge within and outside the agency”. Yablonski was also a vice-president at the St. Joe Company, which is under investigation for fraud by the SEC.
Item # 11- Contract between Skandera and Hovanetz/invoices/purchase orders. Item # 12- Reuters article “Writing Bills, Finding Funds.”
Item # 13- Emails from Hovanetz to Skandera (and lobbyists for FEE including
John Bailey) with accompanying draft bills/revisions for A-F (see virtual academy below), 3rd-grade retention (with email that says Florida has not conducted any studies on effectiveness of retention), graduation exam, and teacher effectiveness. Also, emails of list of funders of conference Skandera helped put on for FEE.
Item # 14- SEC documents on Zachariah fraud/ Lawsuit coversheet on overtime. Item # 15- Florida grand jury report on fraud/ St. Joe Company doc on fraud.
2) Forced the taxpayers to pay tens of millions of dollars for new technology by changing from Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, who New Mexico had partnered with to transition to the new common core standards to PARCC. Skandera switched consortiums because FEE (Chiefs for Change) pushes PARCC over SBAC.
APS, while the largest is just one district. Other districts will have to spend money too. SBAC is set up to work with new and old technology. PARCC requires districts buy the latest equipment.
According to minutes of the LESC meeting 11/13-16/2012- APS may have to purchase as many as 36,492 new devices because 56% of APS’ computers do not meet PARCC’s requirements. The existing equipment owned by APS and other districts worked fine for SBAC. The estimated cost to the taxpayers for this upgrade is up to $17 Million.
One of the other out of state consultants that Skandera hired along with Hovanetz and Bailey, Chad Colby, is the director of communications for Achieve Inc. the parent company for PARCC. PARCC rewarded Skandera by appointing her to its board of directors.
In March of 2012, Skandera contracted with Achieve Inc. paying them $39,660 for a three- month contract. Skandera also has her travel paid for by this state contractor. (Gift ban issue). Colby became the director of communications for Achieve five months before Skandera contracted with Achieve. (Not even a one year cooling off period).
Item # 16- NMPED 2010 Annual Report on partnering with SBAC
Item # 17- LESC Meeting Minutes 11/15/2012.
Item # 18- FEE’s (Chiefs for Change) communication in support of PARCC. Item # 19- Achieve Inc. Contract/ Colby Achieve info.
Item # 20- Skandera travel paid for by PARCC and FEE.
3) Yet another state contractor pays her travel. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers provides services to New Mexico. Skandera has increased NASCA’s role in New Mexico. They rewarded her by naming her to NASCA’s board of directors. NASCA now pays Skandera’s travel too.
Item # 21- NASCA website showing NM/Skandera bio.
4) Virtual online charter pay to play hand in hand with clear cut PED staff conflicts of interest. K12, Inc. the worlds largest for-profit virtual charter school management company gave Susana Martinez $5,000. K12, Inc. is a big financial sponsor of FEE including the Chiefs for Change education summit in San Francisco that Skandera was heavily engaged in as an officer of Chiefs for Change.
When Christy Hovanetz drafted the A-F school grading bill for Skandera, it included the wording, “In addition to any rights a parent may have pursuant to federal law, the parent of a student enrolled in a public school rated F for two of the last four years has the right to transfer the student in the same grade to any public school in the state not rated F or the right to have the student continue schooling by means of distance learning offered through the statewide cyber academy or a cyber academy approved in any other state.”
This verbiage made it into SB 427 submitted by Vernon Asbill during the 2011 session. At the time there was no cyber academy in New Mexico. K12, Inc. had tried to open in New Mexico as the Sandia Academy, but was blocked by the New Mexico Public Education Commission. Veronica Garcia, then the education secretary upheld the denial. Sandia Academy, represented by attorney Patricia A. Matthews of the law firm Matthews Fox, filed a lawsuit in Santa Fe District Court. The court upheld Garcia’s rejection of Sandia’s appeal.
K12, Inc. lost for a variety of reasons. Unlike IDEAL-NM, the state run online education program that served students and online training for state employees for free was at that time one of the best in the country. K12, Inc. would have been a sole-source procurement ($700,000 a year) with an out of state vendor. K12, Inc. was also a for-profit management company, which is illegal under the Charter School Act.
In June 2011, Skandera contracted with Matthews Fox, and hired Patricia Matthews fulltime in July 2011 to run her charter school program. Matthews helped Skandera RIF 33 PED employees including the director of charter schools, who had rejected K12, Inc. Matthews same client that has tried to bring K12, Inc. in during Richardson, has since opened the New Mexico Virtual Academy.
According to LESC Meeting Minutes on 6/18-20/2012, K12, Inc. and New Mexico Virtual Academy have a MOU, which “provides that K12, Inc. will hire administrative personnel-perhaps including a “school director”- to deliver the educational services; and will be involved in recruiting, interviewing, and recommending certain administrative positions at the school: head administrator, business manager, and special education coordinator, and enumerates a number of other general and administrative services that K12 Inc. will perform.” (Clearly for-profit management). The special assistance to Matthews Fox’s charter school clients did not end with that. Matthews as head of NMPED-Options for Parents (formerly the charter school division) interceded on behalf of New Mexico Virtual Academy after it missed a deadline to apply for federal funding through the state. The lawyer for NMVA—Matthews law partner (until two months prior) Susan Fox. (More on these two below).
Item # 21- K12, Inc. contribution to Martinez.
Item # 22- SB 427 allowing students at F schools to go to virtual academy. Item # 23- Emails between Skandera and FEE on A-F bill rollout
Item # 24- PEC Denial/ Sandia Lawsuit Docket
Item # 25- LESC Meeting Minutes 8/18-20/2012/ Emails Matthews, Fox, K12.
5) Numerous procurement code violations involving PED. PED has been found to have violated the state procurement code on at least seven times from November 2011 to July 2012. Violations can be charged criminally as well as require a fine. There are numerous occasions in addition to these findings were PED did not follow the state procurement code.
Item # 26- Procurement code violation findings.
6) Skandera reversed additional PEC denials of charters involving Matthews Fox clients. Hanna Skandera hired Matthews Fox on a contract on 6/9/11. The contract was to “review the current proposed staffing levels and roles of staff members within the Charter Schools Division.” One day after the contract date Susan Fox appeared before the PEC at a hearing where the PEC had to revisit its denial of the charter for Matthews Fox client Ralph J. Bunche Charter School after Skandera reversed the PEC’s ruling. The denial of Matthews Fox’s clients’ charter was recommended by Matthews’ predecessor at the Charter School Division, who was then RIFd by Skandera on the same day that Fox appeared in front of the PEC on behalf of Matthews Fox.
Matthews appeared at the December 2010 hearing when the PEC denied the charter.
In late May 2011, Skandera announced that she was reversing the PEC’s denial of a charter to Matthews Fox clients calling the PEC’s ruling “arbitrary and capricious”. The PEC’s denial of the charters had been upon specific factors under the charter school act.
Skandera also recently reversed the PEC’s denial of a charter for New Mexico Connections Academy. Connections was represented by Susan Fox. Connections is also managed by a for-profit management company, Connections Inc. New Mexico Connections Academy filed a Notice of Intent with Skandera’s office that including a “Management Contract” with Connections for “comprehensive management services”. Skandera reversed the PEC despite NMSA 22-8-4R, which states, “the governing body shall not contract with a for-profit entity for the management of the charter school.”
Item # 27- Documents on reversal of charters 2011 and 2013.
MINORITY EDUCATION/COMMUNICATION ISSUE WITH STAKE HOLDERS
1) Attempt to end run New Mexico law allowing Spanish and Native American languages in alternate demonstration of competency. In an email to Leighann Lenti, Skandera’s director of policy, one of Lenti’s employees sought legal advice from PED general counsel, to determine if PED “can require the majority of the portfolio to be in English due to the rule which allows submissions in Spanish or Native languages. Darn. We could say that submissions demonstrating competency in reading must be in English.” (Email from Vanderbilt to Lenti).
NMAC 126.96.36.199 D4 specifically states, “students may submit a portfolio in English, Spanish, or in a Native American language of an Indian nation, tribe or pueblo located in New Mexico.”
2) The US Office of Civil Rights expressed concern over PED’s lack of a bilingual reading model. LESC Meeting Minutes 11/13/16/12.
3) Lack of communication with Tribal leaders and Hispanic Education leaders. Skandera was accused by both Indian Education leaders and Hispanic Education leaders of not communicating with them. (Santa Fe New Mexican article 12/15/11).
Mandatory retention conflicts with both the Indian Education Act and Hispanic Education Act that call for increasing parental involvement in education.
4) Long term vacancies in key positions in the Indian Education Division and also the Bilingual Education Division left the divisions non-functioning. Failing to fill the positions ran counter to the Indian Education Act and the Hispanic Education Act.
5) NCLB Waiver initially rejected over lack of addressing minority education gap, “the system did not address achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups” and “a lack of attention to subgroups of students-such as ethnic groups and students learning English-was of particular concern.”
6) Failed to attend Hispanic Education Summit while in San Francisco where she spoke at the Chiefs for Change (FEE) education summit and spent time with K12, Inc, Connections and other donors.
Item # 28- Minority education issue docs.
7) Sole-source contracts with Teach for America instead of using the Native American Teacher Training Program through the Indian Education Division and UNM/CNM. Teach for America was paid $800,000 to recruit and train Native American educators and provide culturally sensitive training to non-Native American teachers. Only about 1% of that money went to recruiting and training Native American educators. 80% of teachers trained through TFA leave the profession after 3 years. Over 50% leave after only 2 years. TFA was caught double billing the taxpayers for the same services and had to return the funds over charged.
Item # 29- Teach for America contract, expenditure and study on effectiveness.
8) Accused school districts of “gaming the system” by inflating special education numbers through a high profile media campaign. Skandera launched a high profile audit of 34 school districts accusing many of them of skewing special education figures to make more money. Superintendents countered back that Skandera did not communicate with the districts and that the vast majority of alleged issues could have been resolved in one sitting. The head of the superintendents association opined that “the purpose of the audit was to discredit the districts, contenting that there was no urgency, no need to rush, and no findings of fraudulent behavior.”
Item # 30- Press release, LESC Meetings, news articles.
9) RIF of key PED staff left no one available to aid with E-rate application process for Federal grant money for technology in rural and poor school districts. Skandera eliminated the jobs of the Educational Technologies Bureau putting every district in New Mexico at risk of losing technology funds.
Skandera’s office refused to communicate with the NM Council for Technology in Education who stepped in to fill the void left by Skandera’s RIF. “However, the PED has not made any effort to replace the lost reviewers. Nor do they have a single person on staff who can sit down with a school district and help them to develop an acceptable plan.” Further, “the PED and the Secretary-Designate (and her staff) have seen fit to avoid communications with the CTE while we are doing the work free of charge.”
E-rate money collected in New Mexico dropped significantly in 2011 from over $47,000,000 to $34,000,000.
Item # 31- Emails, press release, E-rate Central state information.
10) Superintendents Association accused Skandera in a letter dated 9/21/2012 of
“on going and systematic exclusion of Superintendents Council input.” Skandera did not notify the council of changes to the A-F school grading system, and failed to respond to requests for information from the council.
Item # 32- Letter from the president of the New Mexico Schools Superintendent Association.
POLICY AND FITNESS ISSUES
1)Failure to analyze serious issues created by third-grade retention as documented in key studies. To date Florida has not assessed the effectiveness of retention, and one study conducted through Harvard found no benefits to retaining kids by the time the reach 8th grade. The rush to push through unproven policy is not reform. Mandatory retention has been proven to increase dropout rates, not reduce them.
Item # 33- National Academy of Science study/ National Assoc of School Psychologists:
2) Failure to assess actual effectiveness of virtual academies. Significant high turn-over rates and increased drop out rates. According to K12, Inc.’s annual report, these schools a profitable for companies, but their students do not perform any better than brick and mortar students. According to an investigation in Colorado, online schools lead to higher rates of permanent dropouts.
3) Bypassing New Mexico institutions for out of state corporations. Ms. Skandera has let IDEAL-NM wither on the vine, while allowing both K12,Inc and Connections siphon off state funds. The result here will be devastating to NM jobs, meaning fewer people here can afford groceries, cars, houses while those living in Virginia will be able to buy more.
Through her conduct in office, Ms. Skandera has demonstrated that she should not be confirmed.