State education department warns of fake letters

By Russell Anglin

A New Mexico Public Education Department spokesman said a form letter sent under a New Mexico Family and Parent Involvement Advisory Council letterhead to school superintendents and media outlets, including Freedom New Mexico, was fabricated.

“The letter is a fake,” said Beverly Friedman, NMPED Public Information Officer. “Someone is using the letter head without our consent. We have sent out an official letter to all of the superintendents in the state advising them of the false letters.”

The letter, dated Jan. 5, tells readers that a number of New Mexico public schools face budget cuts proposed by two state Congressional committees and one task force. The letter included a table with figures showing how much money each school would lose under such a policy change.

The letter reads “The Legislative Education Study Committee (LESC), Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), and the Governmental Restructuring Task Force (GRTF) have recommended that the small school size funding be eliminated for schools and districts that house multiple schools in the same building or on the same campus.”

LESC Director David Harrell denied the letter’s claim that his committee proposed cutting state small school funding adjustments.

“The LESC has made no such recommendation. The LESC has discussed the possibility and the table that was attached to the letter was something that the LESC prepared based upon the data of the Public Education Department,” Harrell said.

Kim Bannerman, staff attorney for the GRTF, said the task force “heard a lot” about the budget proposals but did not endorse any bill during the state Congress’ last interim session. She said the task force ultimately deferred to the LESC to make any legislative proposals on school budgets.

Attempts to reach LFC officials were unsuccessful Friday.

State Rep. Dennis Roch said the LESC actively opposed the recommendation named in the form letter.

“The Legislative Education Study Committee, of which I am a member, actually tried to push back against some of the GRTF proposals and the LFC proposals,” Roch said.

The table attached to the letter lists potential budget cuts that some New Mexico schools would face if proposed changes to state school funding formulas were made. However, Roch said the spreadsheet’s data are not accurate.

“The initial spreadsheet that they put together to see who would be affected by that kind of proposal, what the cost would be to them, I believe, is based on some flawed data,” Roch said. “For example, schools like Elida, which also has multiple schools in the same building, is not on that list.

“So the spreadsheet that got floated around was incomplete at best, and probably inaccurate is more the word to use.”

Logan Schools Superintendent Richard Hazen said he received the phony letter and spreadsheet, which listed a $104,734 budget cut for Logan Schools. He said he understands that the state legislature could pass a number of budget cuts for his school district, but he is not jumping to conclusions.

“(The legislative session) is going to be two months of you wouldn’t believe,” Hazen said. “There’s going to be so many things that pop up that they’re going to throw out there that there’s really no use speculating. This small school adjustment deal is not for sure.”

While the mailed spreadsheet may not accurately represent how proposed budget measures would affect New Mexico schools, Roch said, the upcoming legislative session will feature tension regarding how urban and rural districts will be organized and funded.

“This kind of ties in with a bill that’s been introduced already, a pre-filed bill called Senate Bill 80 that would defund any school district (less than) 1,000 students,” Roch said. “That is the nature of an urban/rural fight that I believe is going to be sometimes a bigger fight this year in the legislature than a party fight.

“It’s less sometimes about Republican and Democrat, and I think this year we’re going to see some fights between urban and rural legislators, regardless of party affiliation.”

The LESC meets Monday in Santa Fe.