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Auditor finds charter school contracting problems

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two Albuquerque charter schools have paid more than $1 million to a private company owned by the schools' top administrator and another school official, according to a financial review by the state auditor's office released Wednesday.

State Auditor Hector Balderas said his office found potential contracting violations and conflicts of interests at Southwest Secondary Learning Center and Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics and Science Academy, which are part of a consortium of four charter schools called the Southwest Learning Centers.

Balderas said his office had alerted the FBI to potential problems at the schools.

The governing boards of the schools announced earlier this week that head administrator Scott Glasrud has taken a leave of absence amid an FBI investigation.

According to Balderas, a company co-owned by Glasrud and another founder of the schools, Dalene "Dolly" Juarez, was paid $1.1 million since 2008 for the lease of aircraft for the schools' program that prepares students to be private pilots and for careers in aviation.

Charter schools are public schools freed from some traditional educational requirements to help them offer innovative programs. Local school boards or the state can approve charters.

A lawyer for the schools, Patricia Matthews, said governing boards received Balderas' report on Tuesday and hadn't been able to evaluate all of the findings.

"The governing councils are committed to working with the auditor's office, the New Mexico Public Education Department and our independent auditor to take the necessary steps to address the issues outlined in the report," Matthews said in a statement.

Balderas recommended the schools and the state tighten financial oversight of the schools. He also questioned the charter schools' governing system, pointing out that Glasrud played an influential role in selecting board members.

He said auditors hadn't been able to determine whether aircraft leasing costs were reasonable or whether the aircraft were used improperly for purposes not covered by the leases. Balderas said the school didn't provide documents to show whether a competitive bidding process was used for aircraft leases in recent years.

His office also questioned a lease of building space by the schools from Glasrud's and Juarez's business, which received more than $250,000 in the 2012 and 2013 budget years.

Balderas said Glasrud received total compensation of $240,000 a year under contracts with the four schools in the consortium and could earn 80 days of annual leave.

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Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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