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A lawsuit accuses Albuquerque Public Schools of retaliation after an employee reported that a former principal was working while appearing intoxicated, rarely showing up to work and verbally abusing employees.
Filed by Hoover Middle School counselor Louise Adelstone, the suit accuses former principal Jim Chacho of retaliating against her when she raised concerns about Chacho’s behavior. She names Chacho and APS as defendants and is seeking damages for violations of the state Whistleblower Protection Act, emotional distress and more.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta would not discuss the allegations, stating that per policy the school district “does not comment on pending litigation.”
Chacho, now an assistant principal at Manzano High School, did not return a voicemail New Mexico Political Report left at his home Tuesday morning.
‘Absences, erratic behavior and frequent intoxication’
Adelstone said that in the two years she worked with Chacho at Hoover Middle School, he rarely showed up to work.
“He was never at school for three consecutive days all day,” Adelstone said in an interview.
When he did show up, he’d sometimes look disheveled and “smell of beer,” which she said had her worrying of student safety.
Adelstone’s lawsuit accuses Chacho’s “absences, erratic behavior and frequent intoxication” at Hoover Middle School “could present a danger to the students” and “have a negative effect on their education.”
New Mexico Political Report also spoke with two other people who worked with Chacho at Hoover who wished to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation. Both said they witnessed Chacho come to work looking intoxicated four or five times. Adelstone, however, puts that number much higher at around two dozen times.
All three also said Chacho was off campus more than he was on campus.
The lawsuit alleges that an incident on Dec. 15, 2014 prompted staffers to call their union representatives, who in turn reported Chacho’s behavior to APS.
“On that occasion, Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools, Katarina Sandoval, came to Hoover Middle School and had Mr. Chacho drive to their headquarters, and APS Human Resources personnel searched his office,” the lawsuit reads.
Chacho did not come back to work that week, according to the lawsuit and the school employees who spoke with New Mexico Political Report. Chacho’s absence after the incident came right before winter break, which one employee described as “high anxiety times for kids and teachers.”
“That’s not a time for a principal to be taking off,” the employee said in an interview.
Union survey gave Chacho low marks
The lawsuit also cites a February 2015 Albuquerque Teachers Federation survey of Hoover Middle School employees about Chacho. The suit contends that the results were “very negative regarding his performance and professionalism.”
AFT President Ellen Bernstein wouldn’t cite specifics from the survey in an interview, saying that the results are only meant for the school district.
“That was internal organizing,” Bernstein said. “We wouldn’t share that.”
But she said the union surveys like this aren’t common.
“It’s when we haven’t been able to come to any consensus on next steps that make sense to local staff and the school administration when our perceptions are at odds with each other,” Bernstein said. “It doesn’t happen often.”
New Mexico Political Report did, however, obtain written feedback from the survey about Chacho’s performance from the school’s employees.
Of the 44 written comments provided, 26 are negative of Chacho’s performance while nine are positive and nine are neutral. The vast majority of the negative comments criticize Chacho for never showing up at school.
“In the year and a half that he has been at Hoover, he has yet to be at school for a solid week, all day/each of the five days,” reads one.
“Consistently absent from school and never seems to be around before or after school,” reads another.
Others criticizes him for maintaining “a double standard for the staff.”
“If he likes you, you can do whatever,” reads one comment. “If he doesn’t, you can’t.”
Some respondents took him to task for not disciplining the students enough. One alleges that “good kids are starting to be afraid to report things to Mr. Chacho, because he sides with the culprits and their parents.”
“Students know he plays favorites too,” the comment continues. “Some students tell other kids, ‘If you don’t want to be suspended or to get in trouble, get your parents to call Mr. Chacho. He’ll change it and let you off.'”
Most of the positive comments praise him for creating a positive culture for the school and students.
“Mr. Chacho has been great for the school climate,” reads one. “The students have more pride in the school than I have ever experienced.”
The union revealed the survey results in a March staff meeting, according to the lawsuit. There, Adelstone spoke up about some of her issues with Chacho.
Adelstone accuses Chacho of retaliating against her for speaking up by removing her from her private office, “systematically isolating” her from staff and students and attempting to transfer her to another school.
Adelstone’s lawsuit also alleges that APS administration failed to act after she reported Chacho’s actions against her. Instead, the lawsuit says school officials questioned Adelstone about her “alleged paperwork issues” and problems “getting along with other counselors.”
Adelstone said she was then ordered to stop scheduling parent-student conferences and teaching a class on tolerance.
All these actions, Adelstone alleges, were in retaliation for raising concerns about Chacho. She alleges that the actions were also an attempt to force her to resign.
The lawsuit comes shortly after particularly a tough time for Chacho.
On the night of Aug. 20, he was shot multiple times in his chest and neck. Police identified his shooter as Craig Cuthbert, who committed suicide outside a Northeast Heights church shortly after the shooting.
Cuthbert coached Little League and youth football and, according to police, suspected Chacho of having an affair with his wife. Chacho survived the gunshots.
Correction: A previous version of this story said the lawsuit accused Jim Chacho of showing up to work drunk. It in fact accuses him of appearing to be drunk at work. We regret the error.
Read Louise Adelstone’s lawsuit below: