School official accepts blame in letter

By Mike Linn: CNJ News Editor

The superintendent of Fort Sumner schools recently sent a letter to the state’s Public Education Department after failing to order a state-mandated test this year for fourth- and eighth-grade students.

In the letter — which state officials acknowledged Thursday they have received — Superintendent Lecil Richards applauded the district’s dedication to its students and took personal responsibility for not issuing the tests.

“The oversight of not ordering the test was not an attempt to avoid being held accountable,” the letter read. “There is no reason why the Fort Sumner schools would not look forward to taking a test to show the ‘high quality’ of our students and our staff … This was not (an) intentional ‘disregard’ to state and federal mandates.”

Secretary of Education Veronica C. Garcia issued a press release on July 9 claiming Fort Sumner schools “appeared to have disregarded various state and federal mandates” by not issuing the test.

Consequences of the error include possible suspension or revocation of Richards’ license or the licenses of other school officials.

Charmaine Jackson-John, public information officer for the state education department, said she could not comment on the state’s reaction to Richards’ letter because the situation is under investigation.

Jackson-John said the consequences for Fort Sumner schools “depend on the details of the investigation. It depends what their responses are. It depends on a lot of different things.”

In the letter, Richards gave no reason for not ordering a newer version of the state-mandated Terra Nova test, but wrote “I ‘dropped the ball,’ so it will never happen again.”

In his package to the state, Richards also enclosed a letter from test coordinator Mary Ann Cortese, who wrote that she was “distraught” the test wasn’t administered but noted the mishap “was entirely unintentional.”

Like Richards, Cortese also applauded the education Fort Sumner youth receive in the district, writing that 85 percent of the graduates enter into higher education.

Richards said the earliest he expects to hear back from the state would be sometime next week.