May 5, 2010 10:42 PM by David Ortiviz

State audit slams Cesar Chavez School Network

The Colorado Department of Education has released findings of an audit on the Cesar Chavez School Network--and the results are very unfavorable. In a news release sent out Wednesday morning, the Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones says he's concerned about the network's "egregious financial practices and dubious leadership."

"The report makes clear that the leadership of the network prioritized its needs over the students and disregarded both basic business practices and common sense," said Jones. "The leaders of Cesar Chavez School Network squandered taxpayer money, ignored basic legal requirements, over-compensated senior staff, engaged in nepotism and failed to provide accountability over the resources entrusted to them," he added.

Former Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington asked for the review because of allegations of cheating on tests and questions about administrator salaries. The audit found the network's executives "paid themselves at a rate that far exceeded the average salaries for comparable charter schools." Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, the former Chief Executive Officer was paid $339,732 for the 2008-2009 school year. The Chief Financial Officer, Jason Guerrero was paid $321,585. Also, Hernandez's wife, Annette was paid $201,215 during that time. Lawrence and Annette Hernandez were fired by their school board in October 2009.

Another discovery from the report, school employees made $400,000 in credit card purchases, often with no explanation of the spending. There were also concerns of rampant nepotism.  According to the report, the Hernandez's hired more than 20 family members to work at the schools.

"The complete disregard for tax payer funding, it's just sad, and I felt just a huge sense of betrayal," said Pueblo City Schools Board President Stephanie Garcia. Garcia says school district administrators have been assigned to Dolores Huerta Preparatory High and Cesar Chavez Academy to make sure students get a proper education. The administrators will be at the schools through the end of the school year.

In light of the audit Cesar Chavez School Board President Donielle Gonzales wanted to address public concerns. She held a new conference Wednesday afternoon and read a brief prepared statement. "Over the past few months we have completely changed the leadership of the entire organization," said Donielle. "This audit also identifies additional issues the Board recognizes need to be immediately addressed. The Board recognizes the importance of these schools to the communities they serve and our priority is to once again be among the strongest schools in the community," she added.

The Colorado Department of Education hired Sacramento-based MGT of America to conduct the audit starting in December 2009. The audit reviewed the 2008-2009 school year. You can read the full report here.

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