State targets Mora school officials

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By Martin Salazar

Two high ranking Mora school district administrators could lose their education licenses for allegedly diverting school money into a discretionary account used to pay for leather jackets and other frills for state lawmakers and others.

The state Public Education Department issued notices of contemplated action to Chief Operations Officer Roger Gonzales last month and to Business Manager Agnes Padilla last week. The notices inform Gonzales and Padilla that PED plans to take adverse action against their licenses, up to revoking them.

Gonzales and Padilla said they plan to fight the allegations. Gonzales has already requested a hearing.

“I'm confident that as the facts are presented during the hearing, the truth will be evident,” Gonzales said. He said he couldn’t get into specifics about the allegations until after the PED hearing is held and a decision is rendered.

“At the end, I feel that justice will prevail,” Padilla said.

PED is accusing both Gonzales and Padilla of:

• Altering or falsifying school district purchase orders or helping to alter or falsify $2,400 worth of purchase orders to buy leather jackets for state lawmakers, school board members and others

• Improperly diverting $64,000 in operational funds into a discretionary account.
• Spending or overseeing the improper spending of more than $84,000 on such things as lobbying activities, leather jackets, food and  gifts.

• And keeping leather jacket paid for with school funds for themselves
Most of those allegations were made public in a special audit issued by State Auditor Hector Balderas in October 2009.

The statement of contemplated action issued to Gonzales accuses him of additional infractions, including:

• That from 2007 to 2009 he acted as a lobbyist for the school district without registering with the Secretary of State’s office or reporting his lobbying expenditures.

• That from 2006 to 2010, Gonzales “abused the public trust by utilizing school district funds, his (school district ) position and his public employment job time to develop his private consulting business.”

• That he provided political advice to Mora  board candidates while working at the district.

• That he held various administrative positions despite not having an administrator’s license from PED. He has a school business official’s license.

“Sufficient evidence exists to justify the PED in restricting, suspending or revoking Licensee’s educator licensure ... and imposing such other conditions and penalties as may be authorized by law,” the statements of contemplated action issued to both Gonzales and Padilla state.

Mora Superintendent Thomas Garcia said the district will have to wait for the PED’s final action. Garcia, a state representative and one of the lawmakers who received a leather jacket, beef jerky and snacks bought with money from the discretionary fund, said the position Gonzales currently holds does not require a license. Padilla’s position, however, does, he said.

Gonzales has worked for the school district since 2003, while Padilla has worked there for more than 25 years. The two received pay raises last year. Gonzales’ pay jumped from $71,742 to $79,992, while Padilla’s went from $69,555 to $78,055.