Recruiting agencies exploit education ties

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Four recruiting agencies have sprung up in New Mexico. Each is run by a working teacher, a recently resigned PED employee, a district superintendent, or the close relative of a superintendent.

Such close relationships to the school system give recruiters an edge in helping immigrant teachers navigate licensure and hiring protocol. But they also raise concerns about conflicts of interest and ethics violations.

Total Teaching Solutions International (TTSI) is run by Janice Bickert, wife of Ruidoso Municipal Schools superintendent George Bickert. She also works for 3Rivers, a state- and federally funded nonprofit that provides reading support to schools statewide. In 2015, she recruited seven Filipino teachers to New Mexico; in 2016, she recruited four; and in 2017, nine. This year, she placed 48 teachers in Albuquerque, Gallup, Grants, Clovis and Roswell schools at a cost of $15,000 per person. “I intend to be the No. 1 U.S. placement agency for foreign teachers,” she says.

Presidio Teach was founded in 2014 by Colin Taylor when he was still superintendent of San Jon Municipal Schools. Today he runs the agency from Kentucky and says he has placed 60 teachers in New Mexico and Arizona schools over the past four years. He says he doesn’t see a conflict of interest in the overlap. “I didn’t recruit any teachers to my district using the J-1,” he says. “Any work I did was outside of my duties as superintendent.” He declined to say what he charges, but one teacher placed by Taylor’s agency reports he is paying 15 percent of his $55,000 salary annually for three years — about $8,250 per year.

Teach-USA is co-directed by Maria Gemma Hilotin, who resigned from an administrative position at the Public Education Department this summer, and Cora Barsana, a teacher at the Mescalero Apache School. Neither responded to multiple requests for comment by phone, email and social media. Teachers and school administrators say Teach-USA charges $5,500 per client.

TeachQuest-USA is co-run by Roy Tipgos, a teacher in the Zuni Public School District, and Peter Perkins, a teacher who retired from the district. The agency has placed 21 teachers in New Mexico schools and charges up to 10 percent of a teacher’s first-year salary, Perkins says, to be paid upfront. “We’re kind of a matchmaker,” Perkins says. “We see what the districts have posted and we are looking for the people who have come to us. Who fits that description? We provide that information to the districts, and the principals can make the (hiring) decisions.”