Not long after Pamela Engstrom resigned as principal of Albuquerque’s El Camino Real Charter School, her husband, Anders, requested public documents on the education credentials of a few prominent New Mexico Public Education Department officials.
Pamela, who says she was forced out in March for questioning the cost-effectiveness of a $1.1 million federal improvement grant for El Camino, had told her husband about rumors in the education community that several PED officials were working with questionable licenses.
El Camino put Pamela on leave, citing allegations that she mishandled the grant and created a hostile workplace.
Anders, who was once an auditor for tribal gaming operations and now works as a financial advisor for the Education Retirement Board, filed the public records requests as a “concerned citizen.” He says PED employees aren’t willing to ask for the information themselves.
“Nobody wants to go on the record to do it because they’re afraid to be fired,” he tells SFR.
The contents of his records were enough to give him pause. Many of the documents show irregularities, Anders says, most notably with former PED official Sheila Hyde.
Hyde served as deputy secretary for learning and accountability until May, when she was picked in a controversial hire for an $80,000 administrative job with Albuquerque Public Schools. School board members and teachers questioned the timing of the hire, which occurred when APS was enforcing a hiring freeze and facing millions of dollars in cuts.
At the time, APS officials told KOB-TV News that the freeze didn’t apply to “essential positions,” a category that encompassed Hyde’s new job as program development coordinator. (The job description includes providing teachers with essential training.)
The records obtained by Anders show that Hyde’s level 3B teacher’s license, a basic administrative license, became effective July 1, 2004. A receipt for the license and the official certificate show conflicting signatures—one from former New Mexico Department of Education Superintendent Michael Davis and one from former PED Education Secretary Veronica García.
Davis resigned as superintendent in September 2003, while García began as Education Secretary in November of that year, according to PED spokesman Larry Behrens. As this happened, the NMDOE was undergoing a transformation into the PED under former Gov. Bill Richardson’s reforms, which brought public education up to the cabinet level.
According to New Mexico code, the PED officially replaced the NMDOE on May 19, 2004, after being approved in that year’s legislative session.
“It is curious that Michael Davis’ signature would appear on something that’s effective in July 2004 when he was pretty clearly no longer state superintendent,” David Harrell, deputy director of the Legislative Education Study Committee, tells SFR.
Frances Ramírez-Maestas, director of the LESC, says Davis’ stamp shouldn’t have been used after May 19, since the NMDOE was effectively abolished that day.
But the discrepancies extend beyond the signatures. An April 6, 2005 letter to Hyde from the PED says her “application for New Mexico licensure in educational administration” was rejected for not meeting a requirement of seven years’ teaching experience.
Behrens says Hyde resubmitted her application and met an alternative requirement involving 18 semester hours in an “educational administrative program,” later receiving an administrative license. Documents obtained by SFR also show that the state received her application for an administrative license in February 2005. But copies of her administrative license show that it took effect almost a year before the application and letter.
“That’s just real odd,” Harrell says. “Why would you ask for something you already have?”
Behrens says the PED issues licenses from July 1 through June 30. He says a license applied for after July 1 would be retroactive to that date if it were granted.
Another document, dated Feb. 8, 2005, says Hyde’s application was missing a background clearance, a requirement of state teacher’s licenses at all levels. In an email to SFR, Behrens writes that Hyde met this requirement in April 2005.
Hyde’s credentials aren’t the only ones showing inconsistencies. A level two teacher’s license for PED Education Administrator Julia Rosa Emslie bears Michael Davis’ signature on it, but is dated in 2006, almost three years after he left the NMDOE.
Edward Woodd, the former director of Santa Fe’s Academy for Technology and the Classics charter school, says he finds Hyde’s documents “curious and alarming.”
“If someone able to obtain a position in state government did not meet criteria for qualification, I find it troubling,” Woodd tells SFR.
Woodd resigned from ATC after news broke that the charter school had hired a substitute teacher with pending statutory rape charges on his record. The PED ordered Santa Fe Public Schools to investigate ATC’s hiring practices, which raised red flags to Woodd because he says the PED didn’t flag the teacher’s license before the sub was hired.
Discrepancies in Hyde’s documents also stand out to state Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan, who has seen many of the documents requested by Anders Engstrom. Begaye, a member of the LESC, says those involved in signing off on the licenses may have been bending the rules, perhaps intentionally.
“There are a lot of discrepancies that are technical,” Bagaye tells SFR, “but it means a lot when it comes to how we are doing our public education injustice.”
Hyde, for her part, says any questions regarding perceived discrepancies in her license should go to the PED bureau that signed off on them.
“I applied for a license like anyone would and received that license like anyone would,” Hyde tells SFR.
In May, Anders Engstrom forwarded some of Hyde’s documents to State Auditor Hector Balderas while requesting a five-year audit of PED Licensure Bureau records. Balderas says his office has since opened up a special investigations file on the complaint and met with the PED inspector general about it.
“We sent a letter to the Public Education Department requesting results of a review related to the complaint,” Balderas tells SFR. “We’re awaiting an official response.”
Balderas says the file is still open within his office. Behrens wouldn’t confirm the status of Balderas’ referral, but wrote to SFR that “there is/was no internal investigation of the license of Dr. Hyde.”
Begaye says an investigation needs to be conducted from the outside.
“It’s just common sense there’d be cover-up and corrective action before it gets to the top,” Begaye says.
To Pamela, the documents make it seem like some PED employees were able to obtain administrative licenses more easily than others. She mentions how she juggled internships with class and full-time work to meet the prerequisites for her administrative license.
“If it is at minimum a loophole, it needs to be closed,” Pamela tells SFR. “If it is more serious than just a loophole, individuals need to be held accountable.”
View these public documents on Sheila Hyde and Julia Emslie: