Silence at NMPED May Speak Volumes about Patty Matthews’ Departure

Patty Matthews, “The Fox Guarding the Hen House”, may no longer be serving as Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera’s Director of Options for Parents at the New Mexico Public Education Department. 

ISPAC is still waiting for any kind of a response from NMPED about Patty Matthews rumored departure, reported last Friday.  We have made repeated requests to NMPED to confirm this information with a simple “yes” or “no” but silence is their only answer so far.

If true, Matthews’ departure is a big deal. 

Hiring Patty Matthews was entirely wrong from the start. Influenced by cronyism, conflict of interest, and ethical misconduct, her conduct during her brief time with the administration also crossed many lines. 

As Director of Options for Parents, Matthews was in a key position to assist Skandera in enacting the “Florida Model” of education reform—the national Republican strategy to siphon off public education funds and diverting them to favored companies. Her prime task was to convert public schools into online or “virtual” charter schools.

There is a ton of money to be made in virtual schools, with no bricks, no mortar, no janitors, no school nurses, and only one teacher – working from another state – per hundreds of students, charging taxpayers the same per student rate as traditional schools for the privilege of sitting at a computer.

Matthews helped to bring K12, Inc., a multi-million dollar corporation and the nation’s largest provider of distance learning, to New Mexico. K12, Inc. has been trying to find a way around New Mexico laws that kept them out for years, but a $5,000 contribution to Susana Martinez, and Patty Matthews helped pave the way.  Incidentally, K12, Inc. is currently a defendant in a fraud lawsuit, accused of intentionally misleading shareholders by concealing serious problems in their actual performance. 

Shortly before hiring Matthews, Skandera interceded on behalf of three charter schools represented by Matthews and her law partner, Susan Fox.  These schools had been notified by the Public Education Commission (PEC), after long and careful reviews, that their charters would not be renewed due to poor academic performance, failing to meet their charter obligations, and other valid reasons. 

At Matthews’ request, Skandera used her influence to ensure that these poor performing schools remain open and continue under-serving their students. In doing so, Skandera chose to apply a different standard to these failing charter schools than to traditional schools.  

According to Skandera, using standardized tests to rate charter schools performance is “arbitrary and capricious”, but they work just fine for rating traditional schools as failures so that they can be converted into charters.

Next, Skandera gave Matthews a sole-source contract to determine which employees of the Charter School Division should keep their jobs. The first one on the chopping block was Sam Obenshain, Head of the Charter School Division.  Obenshain, in performance of his job, had conducted the long and careful reviews of the three floundering charter schools (Matthews’ clients) and then recommended to the PEC that they not be renewed.  

Once rid of Obenshain, Matthews and Skandera were left with a vacant position to fill.  They chose…Patty Matthews! who represents every charter school in New Mexico in their dealings with NMPED.  She was put in charge of regulating her own clients. 

Skandera gave Matthews the title, Director of the new “Options for Parents” division of NMPED, in charge of charter schools and virtual schools.  Options for Parents is a confusing name in an administration so keen on eliminating parents’ rights to make important decisions about their child’s education.

After moving into her new position, Matthews referred a charter school seeking legal advice to her law partner. This alone should have cost her, but then she interceded on behalf of a client, represented by her law partner, who had missed a deadline to apply for federal funds. 

These blatant conflicts of interest were discovered and publicized by ISPAC.

There has been talk that Patty Matthews helped Governor Martinez select and recruit Hanna Skandera to come to New Mexico as Education Secretary. Her name may not appear on the selection committee identified by Martinez, but if true, then Skandera owes her job, in part, to Matthews. 

If Matthews is indeed leaving NMPED, (perhaps over the attention ISPAC brought to her misconduct) Skandera may have convinced her to wait until after the legislative session was over, and the risk of a knock-down, drag-out confirmation process had passed.

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