When Gov. Susana Martinez gave her first State of the State address on Jan. 1, 2011, she emphasized two priorities: improving education and keeping businesses in New Mexico. But SFR has found that, in the 15 months since Martinez took office, the New Mexico Public Education Department has paid out more than three times as much in professional service contracts to out-of-state education contractors than to those located in New Mexico. What's more, it's unclear whether some of them have produced tangible results.
SFR filed a request under the state Inspection of Open Records Act to see whether PED's expenditures line up with Martinez' stated priorities. The results: Since Jan. 1, 2011, PED has paid more than $6.5 million in professional service contracts to out-of-state providers, compared to $2.1 million for in-state providers. (SFR's analysis does not include contracts with public schools for preschool and other services. Including these data would have altered the totals; for instance, according to the New Mexico Sunshine Portal, PED paid approximately $1.3 million to Albuquerque Public Schools "to provide for preK services" in fiscal year 2012. For a full list of the contracts SFR included, scroll down to the bottom of this article.)
PED, for its part, contests SFR's analysis. PED spokesman Larry Behrens sent SFR an email shortly before deadline asserting that, when intergovernmental and public school contracts are included, the FY12 total comes to $9.7 million for in-state contracts and just shy of $1 million for out-of-state.
"[W]e do not agree with any of the numbers you have presented," Behrens writes, noting that some contracts are with organizations such as the College Board, which administers the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test.
But Behrens' analysis also lists a $1.9 million contract with Measured Progress, a private company whose website states that it is headquartered in New Hampshire and has offices in Colorado, Kentucky and New York, as an in-state contractor. (Scroll down to see the spreadsheet Behrens sent SFR.)
TOP THREE CONTRACTS:
Measured Progress - Dover, NH
Provide Standards Based Assessment data for New Mexico
Save the Children – Westport, Conn.
(total of two contracts)
Develop after school and summer literacy programs and physical
activity / nutrition programs
for rural NM schools
American Institute of Research - Washington, DC
(total of three contracts)
Develop alternative performance assessments for NM students
A company based in Santa Monica, Calif., got more than $400,000 to help New Mexico comply with federal food service requirements. SFR could not find a website or working phone number for that company, and PED did not provide additional information about the contract before press time. A woman based in Tallahassee, Florida, who has no online presence, received $34,000 to "provide technical assistance" to Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and other PED staff "in areas of communication, parent, teacher and public outreach and educational policy." A Fort Worth, Texas, contractor named Cathie Lynn Carothers was paid over $31,000 in May 2011 to help PED hire "key people" to assist with Native American and Hispanic education policy. Almost a year later, the post to head the Indian Education Division is still vacant. State Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan, has said that PED risks running afoul of the state Indian Education Act by failing to fill that post.
Two other contracts task a Dallas, Texas-based corporation called Beanstalks Educational Consulting with developing a "strategic plan for the PED for improvement of education for all taxpayers in New Mexico." Between August 1 and August 31 of last year alone, Beanstalks did $25,000 worth of work for the state. In total, PED has paid that company $72,402 so far. SFR was unable to find a working phone number or website for the company, but Behrens says the company created PED's 2011 Strategic Plan, available online.
But state Public Education Commissioner Eugene Gant questions that decision.
"I don't understand why we had to go out of state to find somebody to help with the strategic plan," Gant says. "We've got all these superintendents with years of experience...The governor's always talking about having more jobs for the people in the state of New Mexico—now we're sending all this money out of the state to pay somebody else to do it."
Another contractor, Chad Colby, who received $15,000 to provide technical assistance and advice to Skandera, was an advisor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush when the A-F grading system recently implemented in New Mexico was adopted there.
Although states' educational budgets are often considered a sacred cow—untouchable even in times of economic downturn—Martinez promised to reduce PED's budget without affecting education by getting money "out of the bureaucracy and into the classroom." Behrens tells SFR that Martinez' budget for this year "doubled the amount going to instructional materials to over $27 million." Indeed, some of the contracts appear to help PED do just that: Save the Children, of Westport, Conn., developed after-school and summer literacy programs for the state's rural schools. On the other hand, PED paid a Scottsdale, Ariz. company more than $30,000 to "identify and address administrative errors," and more than $137,000 to lawyers representing state teachers and administrators in ethics hearings.
"With all the knowledge and expertise, et cetera, in the state of New Mexico, and the people that know what goes on in the state of New Mexico and have been here for years and know this state better than anybody—why go out of state for expertise that knows nothing about the state of New Mexico?" Gant says. "That I don't understand at all."
A procurement violation that cost the state more than $94,000 occurred last fall in the contract to audit PED’s Special Education Bureau. Albuquerque-based Accounting and Consulting Group, LLP, sent PED a bill for $109,528; PED had contracted with ACG for less than half that ($53,031) and already paid most of it ($37,775). PED determined ACG did not act fraudulently or in bad faith, and Behrens says that work was stopped in time for the contract to be reissued.
Here, peruse the full list of professional service contracts SFR used to calculate the amount of public education money staying in-state versus the amount going out-of-state. This includes all professional service contracts with nonpublic entities; for example, public school districts that provide preK services are not included. SFR requested all contracts dating from Jan. 1, 2011 to the present.
Below, view the spreadsheet PED spokesman Larry Behrens sent to SFR contesting our analysis. A $1.9 million contract with Measured Progress—a company with headquarters in New Hampshire and offices in Kentucky, Colorado and New York—is highlighted. Note that Behrens' analysis includes only fiscal year 2012, while SFR's dates back to the middle of fiscal year 2011.