Our friends in the educational field have voiced their concerns with the corruption inside the Albuquerque Public Schools. Below is an open letter to the Eye out-lining the truth. APS has a mediocre (at best) union but the top folks are self serving and greedy as is the APS Superintendent. Winston Brooks IS NOT worth a six digit salary and he does not deserve an additional $30,000.00 increase to his retirement. APS is a failing school system and our tax dollars are giving Brooks an extra $30,000.00 on top of his $250,000.00 plus a year salary? For what? To be the head of a failing school system? So he can take his pension, that we provide him, to some where back East? That $30,000.00 could have funded two additional educational aides at a troubled school but instead the APS School Board chooses to blow it on another failed superintendent.
Albuquerque Metro Authorities have a history of hiring and paying big dollars to out-of-towners who want our jobs and money; only to take a job away from a New Mexican and allow them to spend their fat pension in a different state that does not benefit our community in the least. We have plenty of educated people locally that possess all the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics to do any job here.
I have been an avid reader of the Eye on Albuquerque blog page for a number of years. I admire and respect everything that you have done to expose then Mayor Chavez and now Mayor Barry, Chief Schultz, and the rest of the "Burque" despots. It is about time someone in this city take notice of the actions of our public officials and hold them accountable. I would like to add to your growing list despots the high administrators living in the "Twin Towers" of the Albuquerque Public Schools and those that run the Albuquerque Teachers' Federation, Ellen Bernstein and John Boyajen.
I have been a teacher in APS for many years. I taught students with APS through the dark, drug fueled days of Brad Allison and taught through the 3 headed mess that followed. I was around when Beth Everette violated employees’ rights and refused to pay charter schools their federal funding. Now, I continue to teach through the lies of Winston Brooks and his cronies. I have done everything that has been asked of me "with fidelity" as I have been told to do by my administrative leadership. I cannot sit by any longer and allow them, APS Administration and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF), to outright lie to the citizens of Albuquerque.
Since Winston Brooks has taken the helm of APS, teacher moral within the district has deteriorated and continues to do so. The last straw, at least for me, was when the Albuquerque Journal reported a 6% salary increase for top level administrators and the APS Board approved a $30,000 increase to Mr. Brooks’ retirement package. One thing I should make clear, all "step raises" (time in service) and cost of living allowance adjustments have been frozen for the past 4 years but the APS School Board has given Winston Brooks a raise almost every year he has been in charge of APS. Winston Brooks rationalized that the 6% salary increase for his top administrators citing that (I'll paraphrase) because there are less top administrators, those in currently position have had to take on extra duties. If one is to take that as a reason to award a raise to employees then the teachers should also be receiving a raise. I am a high school teacher, legally capped at 150 students under the current educational law. However, because of "budget cuts" there are fewer teachers within the system teaching an ever increasing number of students. APS applied for, and received, a waiver from PED and my current student caseload is 170 students. While 20 extra students may seem like a minor increase, consider all of the planning, reading, writing and grading that must take place for each student. KOAT News quoted Mr. Brooks stating that the additional monies placed in his retirement package “helped to make him want to stay in Albuquerque.” Really? He needed more money to entice him to stay in Albuquerque? I have to ask then, what is there to entice me or other teachers to stay in APS or in New Mexico for that matter? It certainly isn’t the pay; according to a recent study of teacher salaries, New Mexico, and APS specifically because they follow the state minimum salary requirement, ranks 47thin teacher pay among the 50 states, however, we, New Mexico and APS, rank 12thin administrative pay. The pay issue isn’t just a teacher issue. APS Educational Assistants receive an average of $14,000 a year on an hourly basis. Educational Assistants are not salaried employees, but hourly, thus they do not receive any pay during school breaks or summer vacation.
Rigo Chavez and Monica Armenta are just mouthpieces for Winston Brooks and lied to the citizens of Albuquerque. Rigo Chavez stated that APS has kept medical insurance rates steady for some 3 years while the rest of the population faced an increase in their premium payments. This is a lie. APS did no such thing. Actually what APS did was contract with an outside company to create a “health profile” for all APS employees and their beneficiaries and set up a “Wellness Center.” While this is an “optional” program in that APS employees can decide NOT to participate in, those that opt out are punished financially. Every year that an employee opts out, their premiums increase by $20-$40 a month depending on which health insurance plan and how many family members use the policy (I carry both my spouse and child on my insurance, my premiums have increased by $80 A MONTH in the over the last 3 years. Furthermore APS told its' employees and the citizens of Albuquerque that the “wellness screening” is anonymous; this too is a lie. There are 2 parts to "wellness" program; a “voluntary” online survey and a physical screening. In both cases the APS employee MUST provide their employee ID number in order to access the website survey and for “data collection” during the physical screenings. If, as promised, all of the information collected on APS employees is anonymous, then why must APS employees submit their employee ID numbers? Similarly, employees were told that bringing in documentation of such health screenings performed by their primary care physician is not acceptable; all employees must have their screenings done by the technicians provided by the contracted company. Since when does a medical technician know more about an individual’s health than that individual’s primary care physician? Further proof that the information collected through both the website survey or physical screening is not anonymous; after I completed the online survey last school year and again this year, I received a call from the “Wellness Center” at APS’s Twin Towers to inform me that, based on my answers, I qualify for my own, personal, “wellness coach.” It should be noted that the person that offered this to me called my direct extension at my school site AND called me by my first and last name. Obviously, the data collected by APS is not anonymous.
Ellen Bernstein is, contrary to her claims, simply another "Yes Man" for Brooks. While she claims to be on the side of the teacher, she hasn't quite lived up to this claim. Consider the latest contract "vote" before the 2011-2012 school year. Ms. Bernstein claimed that she fought to insure that every teacher had access to a computer. We already had that. As a matter of fact, the district requires that all of our student attendance and academic records (at least grades 6-12) be maintained on their server using their software (known as iCue to teachers and iParent to parents, same system, different names). Ms. Bernstein also reported that her team negotiated more preparation time for elementary and middle school teachers. My colleagues that teach at those levels tell me that they have not yet seen an increase to their prep times.
In regards to teacher/EA pay issues, Ms. Bernstein continues to follow the APS line that, “there just isn’t the money.” She also claims that she lobbied the state legislature to decrease our mandatory, involuntary salary deductions to the Educational Retirement Benefits program. She has stated at every school she visits and in the press that she lobbied to have the state legislature decrease our deductions by 1.75% (about $100.00 a month in my specific case). She did no such thing. The 1.75% increase that all teachers in New Mexico were forced to pay was, legislatively, a 1 year only deal. It was passed simply to shore up retirement funds AFTER the state realized that they had over paid hundreds of retired teachers. Ms. Bernstein’s reputation in Santa Fe is shot. Most legislators I know, on both sides of the isle, regard her as simply a minor annoyance who only makes threats rather than trying to work with legislators (“If you [legislator] don’t _________, then I will tell all of my teachers not to vote for you and we [ATF] won’t support you.” Under Ms. Bernstein’s leadership, the ATF has grown so weak and ineffective that even APS Administration laughs at the union and does what it wants.
In regards to teacher evaluation, we all agree that there should be a system put in place to evaluate teachers. The method that APS has chosen, with help from the New Mexico Public Education Department, is completely unfair to teachers. Over half of teacher evaluation would be based on student achievement on the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment. This is ONE test give only to students in grades 3-8, 10, and 11. I do not teach any of those grades and yet my evaluation (and pay if APS and PED can get the system approved) will be based on the effectiveness of middle school teachers and middle high school grade teachers. This merit based pay system that is being "piloted" by several schools in APS already. For years the American Federation of Teachers (parent of the Albuquerque Teachers’Federation) and National Educators Association have fought against merit based pay, citing that it is unfair to teachers in areas where education isn't exactly of the highest priority and does not account for issues such as behavior issues and poverty. Given this, why is Ellen Bernstein listed as a co-author on the plan currently being piloted?
Ellen Bernstein has no problem throwing teachers under the bus. In 2002 when the state legislature passed the “3 Tiered Licensure System”she was one of the chief supporters of this law. If one really looks at the system it violates both the Federal and State Constitutions by denying the right of appeal to all teachers who do not pass the dossier system. While this is not specifically related to APS or Albuquerque, it does affect the quality of educators that the district hires. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America states that no state shall deprive a person of property, life, or freedom without some type of appeals process. A teaching license, like a law or medical license, is a property interest. An individual works hard to educate themselves to earn this license. There is no appeal process for the “dossier”system currently in place. If a teacher does not pass the dossier review, the State will revoke the teacher’s license. Ms. Bernstein seemed to just rubber stamp this under the guise of “better teacher pay.” The Federal Department of Labor and Statistics has reported that the poverty level for individual families of 4 sits at roughly $40,000 a year. I earn less than $42,000 with over 10 years of experience and both my BA and Masters’degrees (both in education which is more than can be said for our illustrious PED head Hanna Skandera). Beginning teachers within APS earn a paltry $30,000 a year; many carrying over $50,000 in student loan debt. When several teachers went to Ellen and the Albuquerque Teachers' Federation, they were all told that the Union could do nothing to help them and didn't even know how to help if they could.
The teachers, EAs, secretaries, and other ancillary staff are scared. No one is willing to speak up out of fear of retaliation from either APS or the Union. It is with this letter that I beg you to please turn your “eye” to APS and the issues there. Someone needs to hold them accountable for their actions against the teachers, staff, and students of this city. I will sign this with my Twitter handle “AngryNMTeacher” because, like my co-workers, I too am afraid of my employer and their friends, the Albuquerque Teachers’ Federation.
Angry NM Teacher