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Here comes the sun: Exploiting solar energy would help NM turn important economic corners

By Sen. Mimi Stewart / Democrat, Albuquerque Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes / Republican, Albuquerque
Sunday, January 17th, 2016 at 12:02am //

New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, is blessed with a vast amount of sunshine that it receives each year.

New Mexico is the second-sunniest state in the country, with more than 300 days of sunshine each year, yet only two percent of our electricity is generated from the sun, falling behind states like New Jersey and North Carolina.

Here in our state, the solar industry is growing, thanks to policies that have been adopted and past legislation that encouraged solar use. In fact, it is one of the brightest spots in our economy.

We have 98 solar businesses in the state and the solar sector grew 45 percent from 2012 to 2014 for a total of 1,600 New Mexicans employed statewide at the end of 2014.

This makes the solar industry part of the vibrant fabric of New Mexico’s economy and what makes our state great.

Solar jobs are good, homegrown jobs that pay $20 to $23.50 an hour and cannot be outsourced to other countries.

Along with all of New Mexico’s industries that contribute to energy production, we need to continue supporting such a promising industry that is beginning to provide so many benefits to our state.

The best way to do this is by extending the residential solar tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

The tax credit was established in 2009 and has helped more than 5,500 New Mexican families install solar panels on their homes.

This has provided hardworking New Mexicans with savings on their electricity bill and helped insulate family budgets from uncertainty.

In addition, solar energy provides a pollution-free energy source, which helps decrease air and water pollution overall and improves public health.

We have introduced bills in our respective chambers (Senate Bill 13 and House Bill 26) to extend the tax credit, so that more New Mexican families can take advantage of our abundant sunshine. The bills would begin to decrease the current tax credit of 10 percent in 2019 to five percent in 2024, providing the solar industry time to plan and adjust for the decrease, rather than experiencing an abrupt end next year.

New Mexico could be a national leader in the solar industry and extending the solar tax credit will help us reach our potential.

We are proud to stand together in a bipartisan effort to support the solar industry, which has improved our economy, our environment and our health.


Teachers union sues over evaluations


By Jon Swedien / Journal Staff Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s second-largest teachers union filed a lawsuit Monday, asking a judge to declare the state’s teacher evaluation system illegal.

In the suit, the National Education Association New Mexico argues state law gives school districts authority over teacher evaluations and the system Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera put in place last year takes away that local control. Skandera launched the system last school year under an administrative rule after legislators twice rejected the plan.

The state Public Education Department called it a “frivolous” challenge timed to the fall elections.

The court action, filed in the 1st Judicial District, asks a judge to declare the evaluation system illegal and to prevent its further use.

 “With the support of Governor (Susana) Martinez, (Skandera) has unilaterally implemented a statewide teacher evaluation system. Her implementation of that system was done in violation of the New Mexico Constitution and in violation of state statute,” said Charles Bowyer, executive director of NEA New Mexico.

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are state Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and two teachers – Deborah Romero, a third-grade teacher from Las Cruces, and Manessa Young Padilla, a high school math and science teacher from Los Lunas.

Teachers aren’t opposed to being evaluated, but many do oppose this particular evaluation system, Romero said.

“The truth is we want to be evaluated. We want to be able to identify strengths and weaknesses,” she said, adding she doesn’t believe the current system is fair or accurate.

The union said it opposes the use of value-added models – calculations that use test scores to rate teachers’ impact on classroom learning – because it does not believe they are accurate.

PED officials consistently have supported the use of value-added models, arguing they are an objective way to rate teachers.

“Not too long ago, the NEA agreed that New Mexico needed an evaluation system that put students first. Now, perhaps because of an upcoming election, they feel the need to frivolously challenge a system that has already won in the courts,” said PED spokesperson Larry Behrens in a statement.

“As we have said before, we will work to defend yet another attempt to uphold the old, broken system because our students deserve better.”

This is not the first legal challenge to the evaluation system.

In 2012, before the current evaluation system was put in place, the state and Albuquerque chapters of the American Federation of Teachers filed a petition with the state Supreme Court, asking the court to strike down the system on separation-of-powers grounds. The court rejected the petition.

And in September 2013, a cadre of state legislators, teachers unions and an individual teacher filed a petition in state court against the PED, seeking to halt the state’s new teacher evaluation system. District Court Judge Shannon Bacon denied that petition, and an appeal has been filed.




Santa Fe Reporter: Task Master

The governor is making a play for new teacher evaluation

By Tracy Dingmann

Gov. Susana Martinez has convened her nascent New Mexico Effective Teaching Task Force for the first time. Martinez says she’s keeping a campaign promise that was thwarted in March when the House flunked her plan to evaluate and reward public school teachers based on student achievement. But others say she’s just being a bully.

Members of the task force include a mix of superintendents and teachers from around the state; a venture capitalist; a legal secretary; a teacher’s union boss; and Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Curry, an assistant superintendent of Texico Municipal Schools who’s on the House Education Committee. 

“We need to honor the effort of teachers in the classroom, but it’s also important that we set the bar high, and our current evaluation system hasn’t been doing that,” Roch says. “It has to be tied to student achievement—not 100 percent, I guarantee that—but you can’t do it without looking at student achievement. That would be like evaluating a doctor’s performance without seeing whether the patient has gotten any better.”

Roch is also a former classroom teacher who was picked to serveon the unpaid task force from a group of approximately 200 applicants from around the stateNotably absent are a number of longtime education advocates in the Legislature, including Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Bernalillo.

Stewart, a retired educator who’s been critical of the governor’s reforms, isn’t surprised she wasn’t named.

“I’m glad she has teachers,” Stewart says. “I don’t know most of the people on the task force.”

Stewart bristles at the governor’s allegation that some people think “if we just keep on doing what we’re doing, or throw more money at the problem without any sort of real strategy, that we can magically turn things around.”

On the contrary, Stewart says, the Legislature has invested a great deal of energy into producing a three-tiered licensure system for teachers that relies on comprehensive evaluation. “That new system is keeping about 8 percent of teachers from moving on, with a requirement that if you don’t pass out of level one within five years, you can’t teach anymore. It’s the first good evaluation system that has been working, that weeds out bad teachers. And [the governor] is just dissing it,” she says.

Merit pay isn’t a bad concept, according to Stewart, but she wants the task force mandate to include consideration for those who teach electives and special education, as well as librarians, counselors, social workers and other education professionals. 

“If you just base merit pay on test scores, you leave out half of the people who work with our children,” Stewart says.

It also remains unclear how any type of merit pay program would be funded. As presented to the Legislature earlier this year, the governor’s plan to evaluate teachers contained no financial provisions.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, vice chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, says he is glad to see the task force includes LFC Director David Abbey (other state members are Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and Legislative Education Study Committee Executive Director Frances Ramírez-Maestas).

Having accurate financial information is key, Varela says, to assessing any plan the task force may ultimately offer up. 

“With all these changes proposed by [Skandera], we need to keep in mind that money is driving everything, so we need to have that direct collaboration with the LFC and LESC,” Varela says.

He expects the task force to be effective so long as it takes plenty of legislative input and is looking forward to “perhaps playing devil’s advocate” after the group presents a plan. 

Stewart has a darker view of whether a task force on teaching can do much to solve New Mexico’s underlying crisis in public education.

“Years of inadequate funding, universities that don’t teach teachers how to teach reading very well, blaming the public schools for all the ills of society…” Stewart says, detailing a list of troubles she fears won’t be addressed by the task force.

“I could go on and on.”


AG King issues opinion on HOA Solar Panel Rule

What's the Word? News from Political Peter St. Cyr's Notebook

Homeowners who want to install solar panels on their homes, regulated by HOV covenants, are lining up in support of Rep. Mimi Stewart's HB-9, which would prohibit cities from restricting their use.

And, a legal opinion issued today by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King could also help.

King's opinion clarifies a 2007 state law allowing homeowners associations to regulate the installation or use of solar panels-- so long as the regulations do not “effectively prohibit” their installation or use.

Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the 2011 Home Owners Association Act, asked the AG's office for an official opinion on whether or not a homeowners association can require that members seek its approval before installing solar panels?

King's opinion allows homeowners associations to continue to require homeowners to obtain the prior approval of the associations before placing solar collectors on rooftops as long as restrictions on the installation, or use of solar panels, does not make installations unreasonably difficult or costly.

If approved,, Stewart's HB9 would not allow any municipality to restrict the installation of a solar collector as defined pursuant to the Solar Rights Act, except that placement of solar collectors in historic districts.

The AG has posted the full opinion online.

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