SANTA FE — The attorney for Roberta Vigil, West Las Vegas’ former bilingual director, on Wednesday accused the state of “piling on” in its efforts against his client.
Attorney Sam Bregman was responding to the state Public Education Department’s two-day hearing to present its case for revoking Vigil’s educational license. He said Vigil last week informed the state agency that she would voluntarily give up her license.
“Therefore, the entire hearing is pointless, and it’s understandable only in the context of piling on. There’s absolutely no reason for it at this point,” Bregman said.
Bregman noted that the department has accused Vigil of wasting district funds, “but this Public Education Department hearing is a waste of money.”
However, Beverly Friedman, the department’s spokeswoman, said the agency’s attorneys presented paperwork for Vigil to sign in response to her offer to give up her license. But Vigil hadn’t signed it or returned her license to the state by the time of the hearing, Friedman said. As such, the state decided to proceed, she said.
“They surrender on the PED’s terms,” she said.
Vigil and Bregman didn’t attend the hearing either day.
At the hearing Wednesday, Naomi Vicenti, the district’s business manager from 1991 to last year, described her differences with Vigil over spending requests. But she acknowledged that she largely backed off once a state official sent her a letter informing her that Vigil had the say-so over how bilingual funds were spent.
In one instance, Vicenti testified that she questioned the proposed purchase of a javelin with federal bilingual money. But she said Vigil told her that the javelin was for teacher training.
“I didn’t see how you could use a javelin for teacher training,” Vicenti said, but she said she signed off on the expenditure after Vigil submitted her justification because of the state’s position that Vigil was in charge. “I still questioned it.”
She acknowledged tensions between Vigil and her office. In fact, she said her assistant, Jolene Peres, who succeeded her as West’s business manager, didn’t feel comfortable dealing with Vigil, so she deferred such matters to Vicenti.
Vicenti said Vigil didn’t like it when she would deny a request.
“We had several confrontations. She would storm out. Then she would bypass me,” she said.
But Vicenti said Vigil didn’t bypass her by going to the superintendent or Vigil’s husband, state Rep. Richard Vigil, D-Ribera. Rather, Vigil would change the justifications in her requests to fit the nature of the state and federal funding, Vicenti said. “She would get what she wanted.”
Vicenti confirmed that she rejected a few requests such as athletic jackets as well as a request to pay a couple of Vigil’s employees at a higher rate during the summer.
At the same time, Vicenti acknowledged signing off on the spending requests associated with adults-only, invitation-only parties in 2005 and 2006. The second one cost nearly $10,000.
Vigil described the parties as workshops for teachers. Al Hurricane, the popular northern New Mexico band, was listed as a presenter, not an entertainer.
“At the time, I believed it was for training,” Vicenti said, adding that she didn’t attend either party.
Vicenti testified that the state approved a number of purchases listed under a legislative appropriation that was brought about by Vigil’s husband. The purchases included thousands of dollars worth of furniture, including vibrating chairs, and a large refrigerator.
Vicenti described the furniture as “kind of elaborate with well-made wood. I didn’t know the chairs vibrated until I went over there.”
She said the furniture was better than even the superintendent’s.
She said the list didn’t include the specifics so that she could determine how many pieces of furniture would be purchased.
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The state brought two more witnesses Wednesday in its attempt to prove that Vigil was falsely inflating the number of students with limited English skills — known formally as English language learners. A greater number of such students brings more money to the district.
Linda Montoya, a counselor at West Las Vegas High School, went through a list produced by the bilingual office that showed 25 students, including a Brazilian foreign exchange student, as having taken tests in late 2004, but none of them enrolled in the West district until the fall of the next year. All of them were listed as English language learners.
“I thought it was false information,” Montoya said.
The previous day, witnesses testified that no testing took place during the 2004-05 school year. Montoya agreed with that testimony. She added that the day most of the new students were listed as having taken the tests —Dec. 6, 2004 — was an in-service day — in other words, there were no classes that day.
Montoya said that because Vigil and Principal Gene Parson were gone the day she discovered the discrepancies, she went to Superintendent Joe Baca. Not long after, she got a revised list with the new students no longer listed as English language learner designations and having taken tests the year before they started at West.
Linda Tapia, an assistant principal at West Las Vegas Middle School, said she was surprised to find out a few years ago that her son was an English language learner. She said Annette Ludi, a high school records clerk who testified the previous day, gave her information showing her son’s designation.
Tapia said her son’s first language is English and that he speaks a little Spanish, but not fluently. She added that he graduated in the top 10.
Tapia testified that when she asked Vigil about the information, the bilingual director asked where she got the document.
“She said that I shouldn’t have it. I said it was public information for parents,” she said. “She wasn’t happy about my having it.”
The hearing officer in the case must make a recommendation in the case to Public Education Secretary Veronica Garcia within two months, and Garcia must rule in the matter within a month after that.