Hobbs teacher wants to keep Senate seat

By Michelle Seeber

Sen. Gay G. Kernan, R-Hobbs, is a school teacher who favors higher pay for teachers. But she disagrees with one provision of new legislation aimed at achieving that goal.
Kernan was in Clovis and Portales on Monday, announcing her plans to seek election to the District 42 seat. She faces June primary opposition from Will Palmer of Lovington. The district represents Chaves, Curry, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties.
Kernan said legislation has been approved that will give teachers salary increases by tiers.
“The state … has said all teachers (in New Mexico) will start at $30,000 a year,” she said.
When teachers reach the second level, which could take two or three years, they will receive a salary increase before moving to the third stage.
“A level three teacher will be earning $50,000 a year,” she said.
While she favors higher salaries for teachers, Kernan said not all of the qualifications a teacher must meet to reach the tiers are necessary. She said a requirement of the third level is putting together a “professional document dossier.”
“I don’t believe it makes more qualified teachers,” she said.
The bill, she said, is an attempt to keep teachers in New Mexico and improve their salaries while raising teaching quality.
Kernan is a third-grade teacher at Sanger Elementary School in Hobbs.
She said she shares her teaching responsibilities — up to 60 days per school year — with another teacher while performing her duties as a state legislator.
Kernan was appointed by Gov. Gary Johnson in 2002 to fill the unexpired term of state Sen. Shirley Bailey of Hobbs.
She said she is considering sponsorship of a bill to diminish class size in first through third grades.
“I want to pull first grade out of the class average,” she said, noting that in some schools first graders learn with as many as 27 other students under one teacher and that the age group is impressionable.
She said she’s not sure if she’ll introduce the legislation because of costs involved — about $5 million by some estimates.
In her first year as state senator, Kernan served on the Senate Education Committee and the Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee. Interim assignments included the Water and Natural Resources Committee, the Legislative Educational Study Committee, Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee, and the Corrections Committee.
Diane Kinderwater of the office of Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, said voters interested in hearing more about issues from Kernan can watch her from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday on the television station KENW’s Town Hall Meeting to be broadcast from Portales.
Also scheduled for the program are Adair and Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis.