After various instances of budget mismanagement — including several illegal contracts signed by District leaders — the New Mexico Public Education Department took control of the Española School District’s finances and suspended their Board of Finance in the fall of 2016.
Nearly three years later, the District finally has earned their finances back.
Española School Board President Ruben Archuleta said during June 24 meeting that he had spoken with Department Deputy Secretary of Finance and Operations Adan Delgado, and the two had reached an agreement that control of finances would be returned to the District June 30.
“Hopefully we can move forward,” Archuleta said. “We learned from the mistakes we made in the past.”
District Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said she believes the District has a system and the staff in place to remain compliant with the Department going forward.
“I do believe we have a staff that can manage our finances just fine,” Gutierrez said. “I will be happy to have some assistance for a couple of months.”
That assistance comes in the form of a group of Cooperative Educational Services contractors known as CES Cadre Consultants. The contractors are Karen Snow, Leslie Smith and Stephanie Lewicki. They will be in charge of overseeing the District and making sure it complies with the requests of the Department for three months beginning July 1.
Gutierrez said these requests include hiring a new Level-2 business manager, because the District has more than 3,000 students. She said during the meeting that the District plans to hire Audra Kahl, who recently became the District’s comptroller, for the position. However, Kahl has only completed the training for a Level-1 business manager license. CES Cadre Consultants will mentor Kahl so that she can acquire a Level-2 license, Gutierrez said
Her current yearly salary as comptroller is $72,400, which will increase once she becomes the new business manager, Chief Financial Officer Dan Romero said. Under Department control, the role of business manager was performed by Bryan Runyan of K12 Accounting LLC, which Archuleta said cost the District nearly $50,000 per month.
Gutierrez said Delgado allowed the District to choose its own oversight group. She said they do not have to report to any entity outside of the District.
Archuleta said regaining control of its finances allows for more efficient purchasing processes for the District.
“Anything over $1,000 would have to go to PED, and that could take over a month to get signatures,” Archuleta said. He said purchases going forward could be completed in around three days, which means local businesses that contract with the District can get paid sooner.
The Department’s seizure of the District’s finances in 2016 was due to an inability to verify their fund balances, which often included incorrect information. The District also had various violations of the procurement code. Some vendors never filled out paperwork for contracts and other policies were avoided in order for certain vendors to receive work. Many contracts were also set at $4,999, because anything higher would have needed approval from the Board.
“Events occurring over the last six months raise serious concerns regarding the fiscal management and accountability of Española Public Schools,” then-Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera wrote at the time.
Delgado said in a June 19 phone interview that the Department will still monitor the District closely even after their Board of Finance is returned.
“We would still plan to be keeping a close eye on things,” Delgado said.