We are outraged with the gross misspending of education money in the Mora school district. Heads should roll.
Last week, State Auditor Hector Balderas exposed a slush fund that demonstrated incompetence at best and an arrogance of power at worst.
The district’s superintendent, Dora Romero, sought the audit earlier this year after the Optic submitted a public records request in connection with thousands of dollars in spending for gifts and refreshments to area state lawmakers.
It turns out that more than $80,000 was spent from a discretionary fund that, from what we can tell, did nothing to advance the cause of education in Mora. In fact, more than $40,000 in federal funds, which was specifically intended to provide students Internet access, was improperly diverted into this account.
The expenditures from this slush fund was something of a tossed salad. It included general maintenance expenses, shirts and jackets for janitors, satellite radio, plenty of meals for school board members, turkeys for district staff, retirement gifts, a payment to a clinic for services for one person, and much more.
Earlier this year, the Optic reported that the district spent lavishly on area state lawmakers during the last legislative session — the main beneficiaries being Sen. Phil Griego and Reps. Thomas Garcia, Richard Vigil and Andrew Barreras. The Mora district held a dinner at Santa Fe’s Bull Ring for its top officials and lawmakers, totaling nearly $750, with 13 people attending and steaks as high as $41.
In March, the district spent $2,400 on leather jackets for legislators, school board members and other employees in the central office — $500 of which went for four lawmakers. The jackets ranged in price from $70 to $210. Also, the Mora schools spent more than $2,000 from the account for snacks for state legislators, a quarter of which was for beef jerky.
The Mora district owes the legislators nothing. They are paid by the state to represent the people’s interests; our government entities don’t need to shower them with gifts.
District official Roger Gonzales, who is central to much of this egregious spending, urges the community to move forward. But the community can’t and shouldn’t move forward until it holds its officials accountable.
Joseph Griego, the school board’s chairman, says that the superintendent, Dora Romero, insists she was uncomfortable with the expenditures but approved them anyway. He correctly points out that she had the authority to stop the spending. After all, Mora is paying her $100,000 a year to make sure their dollars are being spent appropriately. She failed in that duty — on a grand scale. And so did Gonzales and business manager Agnes Padilla.
This isn’t personal, but who among us would prefer such outrageous spending over, say, pumping more money into the schools? These three officials should have known better than to spend money intended for education so haphazardly.
Mora is not a rich community. It needs strong schools and can ill afford such skullduggery. The district needs a new team in place, sooner rather than later.