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Senate Bill 137 Introduced to Expand and Enhance the Training and Transparency of Local School Boards

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Senate Bill 137, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) and Senate Education Committee Chair William Soules (D-Las Cruces), has been introduced to upgrade the quality of local school boards with enhanced training and transparency. The bill is based on reforms proposed by the nonpartisan statewide think tank Think New Mexico, which recommended these reforms in a 2022 policy report.

In that report, titled A Roadmap for Rethinking Public Education in New Mexico, Think New Mexico explained that a growing body of research has found that the decisions and actions of local school boards can positively impact the learning environment when school boards are focused on elevating student achievement. Yet under current law, school board members receive only a brief annual training, which fails to adequately cover essential topics like public school budgeting and finance, and how board members can improve student outcomes.

“School boards play a critically important and often overlooked role in determining the quality of our public schools,” said Fred Nathan, Executive Director of Think New Mexico. “School boards approve the district’s budget, hire the superintendent, and ultimately set the tone, culture, and expectations for superintendents, schools, and students.”

The bill proposes four reforms to improve the quality of New Mexico’s local school boards:

  • Expand and enhance the annual training for school board members and charter school board members to include not only laws and policies affecting public schools, but also public school finance, budgeting and fiduciary responsibilities of local school boards; how local school boards can evaluate the academic achievement of students in their district and use data to set individual school goals for student performance in each of the school district’s public schools; and effective governance practices and strategies for supporting and supervising the local superintendent (the average tenure of school district superintendents in New Mexico is less than two years).

New board members would be required to complete at least 10 hours of training, and returning board members would be required to complete at least 5 hours annually. The Public Education Department would post the number of hours completed by each school board member on online school dashboards.

  • Require that all school board candidates disclose their campaign contributions. Under current law, only school board members in districts larger than 12,000 students must disclose. That is just five of the state’s 89 districts. By contrast, 44 other states require all school board candidates to disclose their donors.

The public has a right to know who is funding the election of school board candidates,” said Fred Nathan, Executive Director of Think New Mexico.

  • Require that school board and charter school board meetings be webcast and the recordings archived so that the public can access them.

Many parents and members of the public are not able to attend regular school board meetings due to work or family obligations. With the decline of local newspapers that might cover these meetings, especially in the rural parts of New Mexico, this means that fewer members of the public are able to monitor the actions of the school board, which makes it very difficult to effectively provide public oversight or to have the information that they need as voters in order to elect the best possible board members.

  • Establish a cooling off period between a school board election and 60 days following the date new school board members take office, during which the school board cannot fire the superintendent without cause. This would encourage more stability in school district leadership.

School board governance reforms are also strongly supported by New Mexico voters. A November 2023 poll found that 88% of New Mexico voters support requiring school board members to receive expanded and enhanced training in topics like how to read school district budgets, how to effectively oversee a school district superintendent, and how school board members can positively impact student achievement of New Mexico. Similarly, 87% support requiring school boards to webcast their meetings, and 79% support requiring all school board candidates to disclose their campaign contributions. The poll of 403 registered voters in New Mexico was commissioned by Think New Mexico and overseen by UNM Professor Dr. Gabriel Sanchez, a nationally recognized expert in New Mexico politics and policy.

More information is available on Think New Mexico’s website at: www.thinknewmexico.org

 Contact: Fred Nathan or Mandi Torrez

 (505) 992-1315

fred@thinknewmexico.org

mandi@thinknewmexico,org  

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