Public Education Department

Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary, 2017-present

Previous job: Deputy secretary of PED under Skandera. He earlier served as associate secretary in the Delaware Department of Education and taught social studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Major accomplishment: Secured additional state funding for schools, advocated for teacher pay raises and federal dollars to expand charter schools.

Major mess: Shortly into his tenure, PED proposed a series of changes to the state’s science standards that omitted references to evolution and climate change. After a seven-hour public hearing, Ruszkowski backed down and abandoned the proposed changes.

Best quote: “Every school in New Mexico has to embrace data. They have to embrace measurement. They have to embrace assessment. We can’t keep sending our kids to school every single day and not know how they’re doing.” — Las Cruces Sun-News, Sept. 21, 2018

Where to now: As of this publication, Ruszkowski is PED secretary.

Hanna Skandera, secretary, 2010-2017

Previous job: CEO of Laying the Foundation, a Dallas-based teacher training program. She earlier served as deputy chief of staff and senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, and as deputy commissioner of education under then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Major accomplishment: Oversaw the statewide teacher evaluation system and shift to Common Core-aligned PARCC testing.

Major messes: Both evaluations and PARCC were opposed by the teachers’ unions and Democrats, with the latter holding up Skandera’s confirmation until 2015. The department is still waging a long-running dispute with the federal government over cuts to special education funding. Though that dispute erupted during the Richardson administration, it was exacerbated under Skandera’s stewardship. According to a 2016 state auditor’s report, the mess could cost New Mexico more than  $63 million in federal funding.

Best quote: “New Mexicans can be proud as they look across the nation that there is no other state, actually, that has embraced this much change, not rolled any of it back … and begun to see all their objective measures going up.” — Albuquerque Journal, June 8, 2017.

Where to now: Skandera is currently editor in chief of The Line, a publication of the Frontline Research and Learning Institute. Frontline produces research and data on education-related topics.

Children, Youth and Families Department
Monique Jacobson, secretary, 2015-present

Previous job: Secretary of tourism under Martinez. She earlier worked in marketing for PepsiCo.

Major accomplishment: Launched the million-dollar “Pull Together” media campaign designed to promote department services and streamline reporting of child abuse.

Major mess: Continued incidents of abuse and neglect — some of them documented in a May 2018 Searchlight investigation — raise questions about the department’s policies, staffing and oversight.

Best quote: “We all agree that our kids are precious and we need to protect them, but I think that how you protect children becomes a pretty difficult challenge to solve, especially in a state agency.” — October 2017, interview with Searchlight New Mexico

Where to now: As of this publication, Jacobson is CYFD secretary.

Yolanda Berumen-Deines, secretary, 2010-2014

Previous job: Licensed clinical social worker in private practice, El Paso. She earlier worked for the El Paso Center for Children as director of training for its healthy marriages initiative, and for the Texas Department of Human Services.

Major accomplishment: Established the #SAFE initiative, which allows text message-based reporting of cases of suspected child abuse or neglect. The service receives 35,000 messages a year, according to CYFD.

Major mess: Under her tenure, CYFD struggled to fill hundreds of staffing vacancies and came under fire when several children whose families had been investigated by the department died at the hands of caregivers.

Best quote: Staffing CYFD’s child protection division is “like trying to climb up a very steep, ice-covered mountain.” — Santa Fe New Mexican, Jan. 31, 2014

Human Services Department
Brent Earnest, secretary, 2014-present

Previous job: Earnest was Deputy Secretary of HSD from 2011-2014, where he administered the department’s Medicaid program, Behavioral Health Services Division, and Administrative Services Division He previously worked as a fiscal analyst for the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, as an associate with the Brookings Institution, and as a legislative aide to former Senator Jeff Bingaman.

Major accomplishment: Oversaw New Mexico’s Medicaid program at a time of major growth, while keeping costs to the state down.

Major mess: In 2016, whistleblowers within HSD alleged that management had instructed employees to falsely inflate the incomes of people applying for emergency food assistance, disqualifying them from a benefit they were eligible to receive. Asked to respond to the allegations in a court hearing, top-level HSD officials pleaded the Fifth nearly 100 times. Earnest was later held in contempt of court for failing to follow a consent decree mandating more efficient processing of applications for food stamps.

Best quote: “We have a skilled team, we have a dedicated team, and we are committed to coming into compliance.” — Responding in court to a question about what he is doing to comply with a 30-year-old court order to efficiently process public benefit applications. That order remains in place.

Where to now: As of this publication, Earnest is HSD secretary.

Sidonie Squier, secretary, 2010-2014

Previous job: Director in the Office of Family Assistance, a branch of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department that administers Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other benefit programs. She earlier worked as an administrator in the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and oversaw welfare reform in the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Major accomplishment: Oversaw the rollout of Centennial Care, New Mexico’s state Medicaid program, following Martinez’s decision to expand Medicaid eligibility to working adults under the Affordable Care Act.

Major mess: In 2013, Squier presided over what is perhaps the most controversial move of the Martinez administration. After the governor claimed to have found “credible allegations” of Medicaid fraud, HSD froze Medicaid payments to 15 nonprofit behavioral health providers, putting many out of business and leaving low income residents across the state without access to addiction treatment and other mental health services. The state attorney general later cleared all the providers of any criminal wrongdoing, but the state has yet to recover from the loss of services.

Best quote: “There has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in N.M.” — KOAT, Sept. 25, 2013

Where to now: According to Squier’s LinkedIn profile, she is now “on sabbatical” in Colorado Springs.