ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks is coming under fire for changing a rule to let a state lawmaker who works for the district keep collecting paychecks while she's at the Roundhouse.
Under previous rules, veteran Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, who takes home a hefty salary for overseeing vocational programs at APS, was prohibited to collect paychecks when she took off for Santa Fe. Only APS teachers who are also lawmakers were able to receive their salaries, according to their union contracts.
But a recent Larry Barker investigation found Stapleton deliberately didn't take political leave from APS, cheating taxpayers out of more than $167,000 in pay over the years. Stapleton also accepted more than $100,000 in per diem from the state while serving in the legislature. But when Superintendent Brooks found out, he didn't punish her or make her pay it back. Instead, he changed the rules.
"It's unfair that one employee group can go up there and get paid and another employee group can go up there and wont get paid," said Brooks.
But under state constitution, lawmakers are not supposed to get a salary from the state for legislating. They are only allowed to receive per diem for reimbursement for food, travel and lodging. Even still, Brooks said he doesn't think he's breaking any rules. He said not paying employees for their work at the legislature does New Mexicans a disservice.
"I don't want to have a legislature made up of independently wealthy people who don't have to work for a living," said Brooks. "I thought that's what a citizen legislature was all about."
But the move is drawing some major criticism. Republican Rep. Nora Espinoza from Roswell has called for an investigation into Brooks' actions.
"He's covering corruption," said Espinoza. "Here he is, the superintendent, asking us for money every time he comes up (to Santa Fe) and yet he doesn't take care of his employees."
School board member David Robbins also said he wants to require all APS employees, including teachers, to take unpaid leave for legislative business, like other state government workers do.
"There's the appearance of a conflict that you're going to give a preference to the schools rather than looking at things from an unbiased perspective," said Robbins.
But Brooks said the issue will have to be re-negotiated with the Albuquerque Teacher's Federation.
Brooks denies allegations that Stapleton received special treatment.
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