Albuquerque school boss gets $350,000 buyout, taxpayers don’t get answers

Posted: Aug 18, 2014 4:33 PM
Albuquerque school boss gets $350,000 buyout, taxpayers don’t get answers
GOLDEN PARACHUTE: Winston Brooks resigned as the head of the Albuquerque Public Schools and received a $350,000 buyout. But taxpayers have not been told why he's leaving.

GOLDEN PARACHUTE: Winston Brooks resigned as the head of the Albuquerque Public Schools and received a $350,000 buyout. But taxpayers have not been told why he’s leaving.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

Even in departing, Winston Brooks is a source of controversy.

After six bumpy years as the superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools, the 62-year-old Brooks resigned Friday after signing an agreement with the Albuquerque School Board that will see him receive a lump sum payment of $350,000.

The public hasn’t been told why.

Brooks won’t give a reason why he’s stepping down and the board won’t release an investigative report into what was called a “serious personnel issue” concerning Brooks that led to the resignation.

The report will be kept “in a file separate from Brooks’ personnel file, and it shall not be released to anyone,” the agreement said.

“The public needs to know why he was let go,” said Kathi Bearden, president of the executive committee at New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. “It’s their money.”

The only public comment from the board was a statement issued by board president Analee Maestas that said in part “both (Brooks and the board) agree that this decision is the best option for APS at this time.”

Brooks had two years remaining on his contract, worth about $600,000.

New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act has an exemption for “letters or memorandums which are matters of opinion in personnel files” as well as a “attorney-client privileged information.”

But Susan Boe, executive director at NMFOG, has doubts whether those exceptions apply in the Brooks case.

“Our position is there are a lot of facts in that report and they should be disclosed,” Boe told New Mexico Watchdog on Monday. “As for the attorney-client privilege, we don’t have the report so we don’t know how much of that strictly applies. And the attorney-client privilege can be waived by the client. In this case, the client is the school district.”

New Mexico Watchdog will file an Inspection of Public Records Act request to obtain details of Brooks’ resignation. NMFOG’s executive committee is meeting Tuesday to decide to file its own IPRA request. If the committee goes forward, New Mexico Watchdog and NMFOG will join forces and file together.

The school board’s agreement also mentions Brooks’ wife, Ann, saying APS waives its right to file any legal complaints against Brooks or his wife. Both sides agreed to pay a $25,000 penalty if they publicly bad-mouth each other.

It’s not known why Ann Brooks, who is not an APS employee, is mentioned in the agreement.

“That’s certainly not the personnel exception,” Boe said.

Last November, Winston Brooks called 911 during a dispute with Ann Brooks. No arrests were made, but Winston Brooks, a diabetic, was taken to a nearby hospital for elevated blood sugar levels and high blood pressure.

“The public has a strong interest in knowing the circumstances that led to his resignation and it’s costing (taxpayers) $350,000. At a minimum they could redact the investigation and take the stuff that is opinion and take that out,” Boe said.

In addition to the $350,000 buyout, the district agreed to grant Brooks $25,000 in sick pay for a month. Then there’s the still-to-be-disclosed cost of the board’s investigation into the “serious personnel issue” that led to Brooks’ ouster.

What’s more, there are at least two lawsuits pending against Brooks that the district and Albuquerque taxpayers face. One suit was filed by three APS principals who allege women were disproportionately demoted in 2010. The other is from a former associate superintendent who claims she was demoted after complaining Brooks “treated women with disdain.”

One clause in Friday’s agreement cryptically says if “Brooks is sued by any person for any actions taken while acting in the course and scope in his duties as Superintendent, Brooks will be provided a defense and indemnification for any settlement or verdict, with counsel designated by the District.”

“What kind of things are we indemnifying?” asked Bearden. “Civil complaints? Criminal complaints? And for what period time?”

Click here to read the Brooks’ resignation agreement with the school board.

During his time in Albuquerque, Brooks can point to a number of successes. For instance, the agreement mentioned graduation rates jumped from 50 percent to 73 percent during Brooks’ tenure.

But he also was the center of a number of controversies.

The biggest came last November when Brooks, tweeting during a board meeting to a television reporter, made fun of Public Education Department secretary-designate Hanna Skandera. Gov. Susana Martinez, who had clashed with Brooks, chastised Brooks, who was suspended three days by the APS board.