Health issues force Public Education Department secretary to reduce workload

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Jun. 7—New Mexico Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, who has been in the position for less than a year, is cutting back on his workload to deal with unspecified health issues, the Governor's Office confirmed.

Steinhaus alerted Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday he needs to take time to address "physical health issues he is currently experiencing," Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email.

"He will remain in his position as the Cabinet secretary while reducing his day-to-day workload to ensure he has the time he needs to care for his health," she wrote. "We will work to appoint a deputy secretary and hire other staff as needed to ensure those day-to-day operations continue successfully."

Steinhaus' decision to scale back his time on the job comes as three other top education officials leave the department.

Former Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment, who oversaw curriculum and instruction at the agency, left the department last week to work as director of the Legislative Education Study Committee. John Sena, the department's policy director, will join her as deputy director of the committee in mid-June. And Public Education Deputy Secretary Katarina Sandoval, who oversees academic engagement and student success, plans to leave her post to work as the new chief operations officer for the city of Albuquerque.

"Secretary Steinhaus is grateful to all three for their work over the past 3 1/2 years at PED and wishes them all the best in their new positions," Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson wrote in an email last week. "He is using their departures as an opportunity to update the PED organization chart."

Hayden did not respond when asked how long Steinhaus will reduce his workload or when the Lujan Grisham administration plans to appoint a deputy secretary.

But she said Steinhaus, the former superintendent in Los Alamos, is a valuable member of the team.

"The governor is clear: students, families and schools need the expertise and passion that Secretary Steinhaus brings to his role, and we are grateful that he will continue to work to improve our state's public education system for every New Mexican child," she wrote.

Steinhaus is the department's third Cabinet secretary under the Lujan Grisham administration.

The governor fired the late Karen Trujillo from the position in July 2019. Her successor, Ryan Stewart, stepped down last year. Steinhaus, hired to replace him, was confirmed to the position by the state Senate four months ago.

Staff writer Jessica Pollard contributed to this report.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.