ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The La Promesa Early Learning Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico is a very small charter school with very serious financial problems, due largely to gross mismanagement and alleged fraud.
But somehow state officials were convinced to give the school a second chance to remain open.
La Promesa’s problems first came to light in 2016, when the school’s director, Analee Maestas, was accused of doctoring a receipt so she could be reimbursed for more than $300 worth of cleaning that was done at her home, according to the Albuquerque Journal. She claimed the cleaning took place at the school.
Maestas was also a member of the Albuquerque school board at the time.
That scandal prompted a financial audit of the school, which revealed several disturbing findings, including the following:
For 15 of 17 school transactions, auditors could not find any proof that the goods or services paid for were received by the school, according to a news report from KOB.com.
Auditors found a check made out to a contractor for about $1,600, even though contractor only billed the district for about $1,000.
The school principal was reimbursed for a $1,000 fence, but auditors couldn’t determine who constructed the fence or where it was.
All of that led to a second audit of school finances, which turned out to be impossible to complete, because the school’s financial records were a total mess, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
“La Promesa Early Learning Center’s bookkeeping is so sloppy the Office of the State Auditor could not get an accurate view of its finances, according to a new audit released Wednesday,” the Journal reported in February 2017.
“The newest findings show that La Promesa staff often failed to meet basic standards of bookkeeping – purchase orders were not signed, requisitions had missing or incorrect dates, and a vendor was paid late. Auditor’s Office staff picked 12 employee payroll files to review and found five without required documents and two missing entirely.”
Paul Aguilar, an official with the state’s Public Education Department, called the school’s financial records “a disaster” and said the situation was “actually breathtaking,” according to the Journal.
“That is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances,” Aguilar said. “When they can’t even account for doing good or bad things, it is a disservice to the students. They are doing a disservice to the public as well.”
The entire mess prompted led the Public Education Department to recommend that the school have its charter revoked and its doors closed.
The state’s Public Education Commission responded by voting a few days later to begin the process of revoking the school’s charter, according to KOB.com.
But somehow La Promesa got off the hook, despite all the corruption, incompetence and failure. It was put on a “corrective action plan” by the PEC in April 2017, and was allowed to stay open.
“Our staff has been working with the PEC to create an acceptable corrective action plan that would address La Promesa’s academic and financial problems,” Aguilar was quoted as saying. “The priority is our kids and making sure students at La Promesa are receiving the education they deserve.”
It will be interesting to see whether the school proves it deserves the second chance, or ends up back in the headlines with more examples of dishonesty and gross incompetence.