State Auditor: Charter school exec paid for cleaning with public funds

A review by the State Auditor found an Albuquerque charter school’s executive altered a receipt to receive a reimbursement from the school for cleaning services performed on her home. The investigation prompted a referral to prosecutors for multiple potential crimes. The State Auditor looked into the allegations, first raised in the media earlier this year, over the actions of Analee Maestas, the Executive Director of La Promesa Charter School. Maestas also is the Vice President of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education. “The timeline of events indicate that the Executive Director used school funds to pay for work completed at her home,” State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement.

Ex-APS official not guilty of child sex abuse

A jury in Denver found a former Albuquerque Public Schools deputy superintendent not guilty on child sexual assault charges. The jury found Jason Martinez not guilty on four counts in all. Two were for sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and the other two were for sexual assault on a child with a pattern of abuse. Martinez faced those charges while working at APS last year. Martinez did not undergo a background check required of all school personnel before he abruptly resigned last summer after just two months on the job.

National org: Proposed audit changes at APS are a bad idea

A national auditing organization reached out to Albuquerque Public Schools on Tuesday and asked the district to rethink the restructuring of the auditing department. David Jones, the city auditor of Seattle, penned the letter on behalf of the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) asking APS Board President David Peercy to keep the district’s current internal audit processes in place. Jones also serves as the ALGA’s advocacy committee chair. “We believe these changes significantly weaken the District’s audit functions and could limit the transparency of the District’s operations,” Jones wrote. APS is seeking to eliminate the independence of its auditors and shift those responsibilities to other areas of the district.

Feds: School districts must accommodate transgender students

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education called on school districts around the country to include transgender students in Title IX policies in a letter sent Friday. The eight page letter outlines how school districts should address issues surrounding transgender students, including in bathroom and athletic facilities. “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity,” the letter read. “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”

The letter also said that schools can provide other options for students who prefer to use a separate facility for extra privacy. Representatives from Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Public Schools did not respond to messages from NM Political Report before press time, but a spokeswoman for Las Cruces Public Schools said they have not received the letter from the federal government.

APS changes leave audit staff out of work

When told earlier this week that Albuquerque Public Schools would not be completely eliminating her department, Director of the Internal Audit office Peg Koshmider said it was news to her. Koshmider told NM Political Report  APS told her department they would no longer be employed by the school district after June. “We all got letters of termination,” Koshmider said. Koshmider said her last day at APS is June 30 and she still isn’t sure whether APS will look to move the three employees she oversees to other positions within APS. Koshmider said she herself may end up unemployed and drawing from what she has paid into her retirement fund—even if she “certainly wasn’t intending to retire” before she received the letter of termination.

Don Moya out at APS

Albuquerque Public Schools has let go of its former Chief Financial Officer Don Moya, according to the Albuquerque Journal. The newspaper reports that APS didn’t renew Moya’s contract earlier this month after his medical leave time expired. Moya seriously injured himself in a motorcycle incident last fall, breaking both of his legs. Moya’s relationship with the school district has been strained since last summer. Last August, Moya raised concerns about a potential school district contract with a Denver IT company whose then-chief operating officer had previously gotten fired from Denver Public Schools for taking kickbacks from companies.

GOP chair started anti-transgender rights effort at APS

Dozens of emails sent to Albuquerque school board members opposing a proposed change in rights for transgender students appear to have come from the same source. Last month, Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Peggy Muller-Aragon publicly stated her opposition to a school directive expanding rights for transgender students. After arguing that some parents may not be comfortable with their children sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender students, Muller-Aragon said she received hundreds of emails from constituents who didn’t want to see the directive go forward. In fact, Muller-Aragon received close to 100 emails about the matter on her public school board account, according to records obtained by NM Political Report.  Most of these appeared to copy language from an email from one source—a local Republican Party official

The proposed directive, for which the school board heard public comment last month, would comply with a section of federal law affirming rights for transgender students in public schools.

APS pays out $59K in free speech case

Albuquerque Public Schools will pay $59,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging it violated the first amendment rights of an Albuquerque photojournalist and long-time ethics advocate who said the APS board limited his ability to attend and photograph board meetings. The settlement with Mark Bralley, a retired Albuquerque cop, is the second time APS has settled a free-speech lawsuit since December, when it agreed to pay $575,000 to settle a similar lawsuit bought by retired teacher Ched MacQuigg. This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website. Bralley’s lawsuit settled on April 1, according to court documents. An APS spokesperson said the district had no comment on the settlement.

Superintendent: APS transgender directive needs more work

After an hour of passionate public comment on transgender rights, a Wednesday Albuquerque Public School Board of Education meeting ended with the district’s superintendent requesting further work. A majority of public comment was regarding whether transgender students’ rights should be protected under a federal law that also protects students rights based on gender. The Department of Education said in 2014 the law, known as Title IX, included protections on the basis of gender identity. Board member Peggy Muller-Aragón who was the only member who spoke against the measure, said she had received hundreds of emails in opposition. “The loudest side is not always the right side,” she said of the large number of people who spoke in favor of the measure.

House committee addresses APS hiring practices

The House Education Committee addressed two bills that seemed to target issues within the Albuquerque Public Schools. The committee voted unanimously to tighten educator background checks but failed to pass legislation that would add restrictions to school district superintendents in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. Both bills stem from recent issues in Albuquerque where the past two superintendents left with large severance packages and a deputy superintendent was hired without a background check while he had criminal sexual abuse charges on his record. Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring HB 127 which would require all educators to complete a fingerprint based background check before they start work. Currently, state statute does not outline a specific timeline for when a background check must be completed.