- Associated Press - Saturday, October 14, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller said he’s concerned that the top two administrators at an Albuquerque charter school are taking lavish work trips using money from the school’s nonprofit foundation.

The GREAT Academy Foundation spent roughly $16,000 on out-of-state travel that included stays at luxury resorts for Jasper and Keisha Matthews, who operate the school. Keller said taxpayers deserve an explanation for the expenses he has never seen any other charter school dish out, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Thursday.

“Is this really what their foundation should be focusing their money on?” Keller said. “We think they (Jasper and Keisha Matthews) can afford these trips on their own.”

Keller’s latest concerns follow previous criticisms that the husband-and-wife administrative team was earning a combined $300,000 a year - the highest charter school salaries in the state. A charter school administrator receives $87,000 a year on average.

Jasper Matthews, the executive director and founder of school that has about 200 students, said the $16,000 covered trips to three educational conferences, and they traveled with a number of board members. They stayed at a discounted rate at the conference host hotels.

The hotels included the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, and the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

“There are limits to how much you can spend on in-state and out-of-state travel - we follow all of those guidelines,” Jasper Matthews said. “We have not had any audit findings or any violations regarding our travel in this ‘15-‘16 audit year.”

In September, the state auditor sent a letter to the foundation’s presidents and board of directors criticizing the high travel costs, which amounted to less than 6 percent of the foundation’s annual budget.

Jasper Matthews said Keller’s criticism could be a ploy to get attention. Keller is running for mayor of Albuquerque, and a runoff election is scheduled for November.

Keller said he is focused on responsible charter school spending.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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