Skandera confirmation hearing to resume on Saturday

Posted at: 03/01/2013 6:32 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Hanna Skandera
Photo: Hanna Skandera

Saturday promises to be a grueling ordeal for state education chief Hanna Skandera as she faces the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee.

The day is likely to start with more public testimony, much like the session Friday morning, only much longer because it won't be a school day and teachers are expected to pack the hearing room.

Today's testimony featured public comments both favoring Skandera and opposing her. Teachers unions are gunning for her, zeroing in on her lack of classroom teaching experience. The state constitution says the Education Secretary must be a "qualified, experienced educator."

"That matters to teachers," said Albuquerque Federation of Teachers president Ellen Bernstein. "You have to understand what policy ends up looking like in practice, and sometimes there are unintended consequences because you've never been a teacher."

"At the end of the day my job is to serve," Skandera said after the hearing. "I believe I've served well and stayed focused and this is the legislature's job. My job is to serve the state. I think I've done that and I will continue to do that."

Skandera has held powerful policy-making jobs in the education departments of California and Florida, and the U.S. Department of Education - but that doesn't impress the union leaders.

"She does not know New Mexico," said Santa Fe NEA president Bernice Garcia Baca. "Two years living here barely scratches the surface and most importantly she does not know enough about public school education. This is something that has to be studied over many, many years."

Skandera has become a sort of lightning rod for the education agenda of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. Those policies are unpopular with most Democratic lawmakers, and that has made Skandera a political target. The committee's vote on her confirmation will lead to a vote in the full Senate, which had the final say over whether she stays or goes. She has served more than two years as Education secretary, while Senate leaders have put off her confirmation hearing again and again.

"One of our biggest challenges is that we get stuck on adult issues and lose sight of kids and their success," Skandera said. "I actually believe that the challenge and the opportunity is to stay focused on our kids and I think I have done that."

The hearing resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Capitol. The last time the Senate rejected a cabinet secretary was 1997, when Republican Gary Johnson was Governor.