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TUES: NM Education Secretary promises to hold school leaders accountable, + More

New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Dr. Arsenio Romero
New Mexico in Focus
New Mexico PBS
New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Arsenio Romero

Public Education Secretary promises to hold school leadership accountable for performance - KUNM News

Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero said in light of continued poor performance at far too many New Mexico public schools, new accountability measures should be put in place to ensure they are fully using state dollars and implementing evidence-based learning.

A statement released by the Public Education Department Tuesday, Nov. 21, said that school performance data show troubling trends. For instance, the number of schools requiring targeted support and improvement rose from 113 to 368 over the last school year

Overall, statewide reading proficiency is at 38% and math is even lower, at 24%.  

In a letter to district leadership, Sec. Romero wrote, “Like many New Mexicans, I am deeply alarmed by the high number of low-performing schools and what that means for the state, the children who are being educated here, and our future."

He said that he would include additional accountability measures in the department’s budget request in the upcoming legislative session.

He plans to implement a new model designed to ensure that districts that do not provide their students with an effective education implement programs and policies that are proven to produce positive results.

Santa Fe to miss another financial audit deadline - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

The City of Santa Fe announced late Monday that it will miss the deadline for this year’s financial audit. It’s not the first time this has happened.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports it’s actually the sixth time in seven years the capital city has failed to turn the annual report into the state on time.

City officials said an outside auditor informed them that the document, which is due next month, won’t be ready until the middle of May.

The announcement did not provide rationale for the delay. Officials had said earlier this year that it was on track to be completed on time.

Meanwhile, last year’s audit still hasn’t been submitted. Santa Fe Finance Director Emily Oster told the New Mexican that her office is working to get that one done by Dec. 4, which would be about a year behind schedule. The office only completed the 2021 audit this past summer, making that one over a year and half past due.

Oster said in a statement that her team is “modernizing the City’s financial systems and processes” and that from here on “late audits will be a thing of the past.”

Mora will be site of greenhouse meant to help New Mexico forests ravaged by fires - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

State officials have chosen the county of Mora as the site for a greenhouse the size of a Walmart supercenter, that will grow millions of seedlings to restore forests ravaged by fire and climate change.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the greenhouse will be part of a reforestation center slated to be built next to New Mexico State University’s Forestry Research Center in Mora.

The center was initially announced in January 2022 as a remedy for forests scorched by wildfires, which scientists predict will grow more intense and frequent in the changing climate.

Then a few months later, two prescribed burns that went awry merged into the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, the largest runaway blaze in the state’s recorded history.

The inferno validated the need for the reforestation center more vividly and swiftly than anyone involved had imagined.

Owen Burney, NMSU ecophysiology professor and director of the forestry research center said “We knew that these type of fires would happen, man-made or natural," adding, "It really gave us momentum, and it’s a sad truth: It took the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire for people to see light ... to listen to us more attentively.”
Court upholds pretrial jailing of man charged in shooting over Spanish conquistador statue - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

An appeals court Monday upheld a judge's decision to deny bail to a New Mexico man charged with attempted murder in the September shooting of a Native American activist during confrontations about canceled plans to reinstall a statue of a Spanish conquistador.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed a pretrial detention order against 23-year-old Ryan David Martinez as he awaits trial on charges that also include assault with a deadly weapon and additional hate-crime and weapons violations. Martinez has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At a protest on Sept. 28 in Española, confrontations ignited over canceled plans to install a bronze likeness of conquistador Juan de Oñate, who is both revered and reviled for his role in establishing early settlements along the Upper Rio Grande starting in 1598. Chaos erupted at the gathering as a single shot was fired in events recorded by bystanders' cell phones and a surveillance camera.

Multiple videos show Martinez attempting to rush toward a shrine in opposition to installing the statue on that spot — only for Martinez to be blocked physically by a group of men. Voices can be heard saying, "Let him go," as Martinez retreats over a short wall, pulls a handgun from his waist and fires one shot.

The shooting severely wounded Jacob Johns, of Spokane, Washington, a well-traveled activist for environmental causes and an advocate for Native American rights who is of Hopi and Akimel O'odham tribal descent.

Defense attorneys Nicole Moss and Ray Marshall argued unsuccessfully that bail was denied arbitrarily, and without full consideration for monitored release options. They said Martinez will have a strong argument for acting in self-defense and wasn't an instigator.

Three Appeals Court judges affirmed pretrial detention after consulting the state attorney general and reviewing prior district court testimony from witnesses to the conflict, local law enforcement and the FBI.

Attorney General Raúl Torrez urged the Appeals Court to keep Martinez jailed pending trial even though the defendant has not been charged with serious crimes before. He noted that Martinez carried a loaded, concealed gun with him as he intentionally entered an area against protesters' wishes, provoking a conflict.

"Defendant threatened to shoot people, may have violated federal firearms laws, brought guns to a peaceful ceremony and ultimately shot Jacob," the attorney general's office said.

In denying bail, state District Court Judge Jason Lidyard previously highlighted aggressive conduct by Martinez, including expletives directed at a sheriff's deputy and bystanders at the demonstration in Española and past violent threats in social media posts against the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Lidyard also highlighted testimony that Martinez appeared to be converting semi-automatic guns into automatic weapons at home where he lived with his parents. That situation also weighed in the judge's decision against release involving parental supervision.

ABQ City Council grants New Mexico United Balloon Fiesta Park lease agreement - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Albuquerque’s City Council has granted the New Mexico United soccer team a much-anticipated lease agreement to build a privately financed stadium at Balloon Fiesta Park.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, councilors voted 7-2 in favor of the lease agreement.

This comes as a new mandate – set by the United Soccer League – puts pressure on the team to build a minimum 6,000 seat stadium by 2026.

Ron Patel, chief business officer at New Mexico United, told the Journal the team plans to build an 8,000-10,000 seat stadium.

The stadium will be located in a seven-acre parking lot east of the launch field.

As it stands, the team will sink at least $30 million into designing and building the stadium.

After construction is completed, the team will pay a lease to the city totaling $35,000 the first year, with a 2% rent increase each year, plus a 10% cut of parking revenue. It’ll last 30 years with an option to renew.

N.M. spends tens of millions more every year on prosecutors than public defenders - By Austin Fisher,Source New Mexico

 New Mexico spends tens of millions of dollars more every year on prosecutors pursuing criminal cases against people than it does on public defenders, according to records newly released by the state’s Legislature.

The statewide picture of funding for local district attorneys’ offices illustrates a longstanding disparity of resources between them and their opponents in court.

To get a sense of how much public funding goes to the agencies prosecuting criminal laws in New Mexico, Source NM reviewed the budget requests handed in this fall by all 14 local DA’s offices across the state. This was necessary because prosecutors have not yet turned in a unified, statewide budget priority document, though a cover letter on one of their appropriation requests indicated they would.

Documents show for this year’s budget, prosecutors have more than $103 million to work with.

That is 30% more than the Law Offices of the Public Defender’s annual budget, which totals $71.7 million.

Taken together, prosecutors are asking state lawmakers to increase their budgets next year by 9.5% to a total of $116 million. Public defenders, on the other hand, are asking for $86.6 million. Even if lawmakers approve both sides’ requests, prosecutors would still get 25% more money overall.

Prosecutors or their budget experts formally asked for the money during a two-and-a-half hour hearing on Thursday in Santa Fe before the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), the group of lawmakers who control the state’s budget.

Their reasons for spending more money vary widely. Some said they need to hire more victims’ advocates and investigators, others want more paralegals, and still more need new software to keep track of cases.

Prosecutors’ offices have about 334 attorneys working for them, according to their comments to lawmakers and their organizational charts, cover letters and caseload statistics included in their written requests.

That’s fewer than the 349 public defenders in the state. However, to actually handle all the cases they’re assigned, the public defender’s office said in its budget proposal it would need at least 897 public defenders, based on a workload study by the American Bar Association.

Researchers looked at how much time public defenders should spend on each case to meet the minimum standards for legal representation.

On the other side, half of the district attorneys are asking to create a total of 40 new prosecutor positions. The rest are not asking to create new positions, but many are seeking more money to be able to entice people to become prosecutors in rural parts of New Mexico.

In absolute dollar amounts, the biggest request comes from Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman, who is asking for an additional $5.5 million and 20 additional prosecutors in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city.

If lawmakers approve his request, his annual budget will grow to $38.1 million, larger than the entire budgets of some smaller towns in the state like, for example, Española ($11.9 million), Lovington ($19 million), Portales ($22 million) and Grants ($33.1 million).

“If you give me more prosecutors, it will make a difference, because it already is making a difference,” Bregman said. “You don’t turn crime on a dime. It’s not a speedboat, it’s a ship.”

The smallest request comes from 10th Judicial District Attorney Timothy Rose, who is asking for an additional $37,000 to bring his overall budget to $2.1 million. His district in eastern New Mexico includes Quay, Harding, and De Baca Counties.

Rose’s office has four prosecutors, and he isn’t asking for any more, according to his written request. He plans to use the extra money to raise the salaries for a vacant deputy district attorney job and a vacant office manager gig.

Rose asked another elected prosecutor, 13th Judicial District Attorney Barbara Romo, to present his budget on his behalf because he couldn’t attend the hearing.

“The 10th district is doing fine and currently capable of handling our business in the next fiscal year with a flat budget,” Romo said.


On Wednesday, Thomas Joseph Clear III, chair of the state’s Public Defender Commission, cautioned the LFC that the state’s criminal legal system is “a three-legged stool”: the judicial branch (judges and court staff), law enforcement (police and district attorneys), and public defense.

“They need to be funded pretty much equally,” Clear said.

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur told LFC on Wednesday there are far too many clients for his attorneys to handle, to the point where people accused of crimes are losing out on their constitutional rights to adequate defense and due process.

For example, Baur pointed to Bregman’s decision in September to assign his attorneys to prosecute retail theft, taking over for police officers who used to handle those cases.

“Every hour that they spend is probably at least an hour that increases the public defender need, so we would have to at least be able to match whatever (full-time employees) they would add,” Baur said. “And contractors as well, because in a lot of those cases, if it’s a conspiracy case, by definition there’s more than one defendant, and so we would have to pay a contractor as well.”

Bregman and Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce told the LFC on Thursday they agree public defenders need more money.

“I want you to give as much money to the public defenders as they need, your honor — I mean, Mr. Chairman,” Bregman told Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup). “But I mean that, I really do. I think the only way our criminal justice system works is if everybody is funded appropriately, and it has to be that way. I want you to do whatever you can to help the public defender’s office.”

The judicial branch also needs to be funded, Bregman said, to allow for more preliminary hearings and more grand juries.

“We can’t do our job if we don’t have defense attorneys on the other side,” Luce said. “We know they’re short-staffed.”

“I would ask for whatever you can do to help the infrastructure overall for the courts, for the public defenders, for the labs, (the Office of the Medical Investigator), to help us get cases to trial, and get them done timely,” she said.

CYFD gets new a permanent leader - By Megan Myscofski, KUNM News 

The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department has a new permanent leader.

Teresa Casados was appointed to the post by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham Monday after serving as interim secretary since April.

Casados will also step down as Chief Operating Officer in the Governor’s Office, a position she’s held since 2019.

CYFD has drawn scrutiny over the years from legislators who say the department is mismanaged.

Since Casados joined CYFD, the department has ended the practice of using Social Security benefits that belong to children.

APD closes BIG I due to individual on ramp — By Nash Jones, KUNM News

The Albuquerque Police Department closed several routes around the BIG I Monday due to a person standing on one of the ramps. All lanes of traffic have since been reopened.

Police announced the closure of I-40 eastbound and I-25 northbound, along with University Blvd. around the interchange, around 3:30 p.m.

APD spokesperson Franchesca Perdue said in an email that the individual was transported to an area hospital after officers moved them out of the way of traffic.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.