APS Looks At Political Pay, Leave
Apr 11, 2012 (Albuquerque Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Albuquerque Public Schools employees who are also legislators should not be paid for time spent serving in Santa Fe, a majority of Albuquerque school board members made clear Tuesday.
The board's policy committee did not take a vote on the issue, but discussed it and scheduled a committee vote for May 1. During Tuesday night's meeting, three members questioned whether APS employees should be serving in the Legislature at all.
APS currently pays its three employee legislators their full salary while they are in Santa Fe. Lawmakers also collect per diem from the state.
Board member Martin Esquivel said the public wants APS to change its practice. "I just want to make it clear that I am not in favor of compensating for political leave with APS money," Esquivel said. "I think people have spoken pretty loud and clear about this, and they are aghast at the idea that we pay people to serve in the Legislature."
Esquivel advocated for the board to make a speedy decision so potential policy changes could be incorporated into next year's employee union contracts. Those negotiations are happening now and will continue through May.
The issue of legislative pay came to the board's attention in the fall, when media reports found that House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was paid her APS salary while she was in Santa Fe on legislative business. According to a Journal analysis, she was paid more than $63,000 in salary during the past three years while she was away from her administrative job as coordinator of vocational education for APS.
The APS employee handbook at the time said political leave should be unpaid, but the teachers' contract speci f ied teachers and counselors should be paid for political leave. Stapleton's paid leave was cleared with her supervisors, who were unaware of what the employee handbook said.
APS has two other employee legislators: Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, who is a high school teacher, and Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, a counselor. Both were paid their full salaries while they were in Santa Fe, in keeping with their contracts.
Lewis chose to take unpaid leave during the most recent session.
After the Stapleton issue came to Brooks' attention in late October, he changed the handbook to say all employee-legislators would be paid for legislative sessions and special sessions, plus 10 days for committee meetings and other political obligations. Brooks said he did this to ensure all employee groups would have the same benefits, since political leave is granted to teachers in their contracts.
Of the six board members who attended Tuesday's meeting, none advocated for keeping the current policy. The board member with the softest stance, Analee Maestas, said she favors a policy that would allow APS employees to serve and be paid their salaries, but would require them to return their state per diem money to APS, similar to the way many companies handle jury duty.
Maestas said she believes APS should support New Mexico's citizen Legislature.
"I like the idea of being able to have representation from the community, regardless of what your position is," she said. "They too have to make a living, like everybody else does, and I think it's important that we allow them to do that."
Board President Paula Maes has voiced similar feelings before but was not at Tuesday's meeting.
Board members Lorenzo Garcia and David Peercy both said they would prefer a policy that would allow APS employees to serve in the Legislature, but would not pay them their APS salaries while they serve. Esquivel, Kathy Korte and David Robbins all advocated for a policy that would not allow APS employees to serve in the Legislature at all, citing the problem of a classroom teacher who attends a 60-day legislative session, leaving the classroom in the hands of one or more substitute teachers.
Korte said state legislative sessions happen at a crucial time for teachers, in the months leading up to the annual test of student proficiency. She said teachers must be in the classroom during that time.
"No parent wants their child in a classroom with a substitute for 30 to 60 days," Korte said. "Heck, I don't want my kid in a classroom with a substitute for three to five days. That, in and of itself, is a disruption to the education process."
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