- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The situation at a New Mexico charter school involving allegations that a former business manager mishandled nearly $700,000 is part of a larger pattern of poor oversight at the state level, State Auditor Tim Keller said.

Annual audits of La Promesa Early Learning Center did not detect any fraud or embezzlement throughout the six years of suspected mishandling, The Albuquerque Journal reported (https://bit.ly/2yT3WcG ) Sunday. The allegations came to Keller’s attention when a school vendor called his office’s confidential hotline in April to report a suspicious tax form, he said.

Annual audits are not as exhaustive as forensic audits, which are used to uncover fraud and require special expertise. But, Keller said, the state Public Education Department needs to exercise more oversight throughout the year since those audits can’t catch every problem.

“This isn’t just about one instance, the state needs to do a whole lot more supporting and overseeing of our education dollars to protect them from fraud, waste and abuse,” Keller said. “Over the last several years, we’ve urged the Public Education Department to step up oversight and provide the training and support our schools need to succeed. Unfortunately, by the time the Department stepped in at La Promesa, nearly $700,000 was already gone.”

Department spokeswoman Lida Alikhani disagrees with Keller.

“One of our top priorities will always be to ensure that classroom spending is used properly and well-accounted for,” she said. “That’s why we provide regular training to districts and charters in developing their budgets - including in an annual training session each year as districts and charters prepare for the upcoming school year.”

Earlier this month, Keller issued a report outlining extensive fiscal mismanagement at La Promesa - a K-8 state charter school on Albuquerque’s west side.

Julieanne Maestas, La Promesa’s former assistant business manager, is accused of diverting more than $475,000 from the school into her personal bank account from June 2010 to July 2016, according to Keller’s investigation. In addition, she is accused of depositing about $177,000 worth of checks that were payable to the former executive director - her mother, Albuquerque Public Schools board member Analee Maestas - as well as to her boyfriend, who was a school maintenance vendor.

Analee Maestas and Julieanne Maestas left their positions at La Promesa in September 2016.

Last week, Attorney General Hector Balderas called for Analee Maestas to resign from the APS board.

Analee Maestas’ attorney said she is innocent and has no plans to step down.

Previous efforts by The Associated Press to contact Julieanne Maestas were unsuccessful. It is unclear if she has hired a lawyer.

Albuquerque police are investigating the financial activities at La Promesa, but no charges have been filed.


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

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