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LULAC Press Release

LULAC Press Release

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Published by: James R. Scarantino on Aug 31, 2010
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09/15/2010

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For Immediate Release

LULAC, a National Latino Organization and Civil Rights Commission, call for investigation into the operations of the Hispano/Latino Education Improvement Task Force

Contact: Ralph Arellanes ralphnmlulac@comcast.net 505-688-2973

The Taos News reports on Aug. 5, 2010: ³The Taos Municipal School Board awarded a contract worth $5,000 or more to a supporter of (School Board Members) Arsenio Cordova and Lorraine Coca-Ruiz in a split vote. (School Board member) Thomas ³Chuby´ Tafoya called it an ³embarrassment.´ The board voted 3-2 in favor of membership in the Latino/Hispano (Education) Improvement Task Force, led by Jose Armas. The most expensive of the board¶s memberships, it includes a $5,000 retainer, plus $200 an hour µas needed¶..«Armas said in a phone interview that the task force does not have a membership fee. Armas said the retainer and hourly fee would go to him as a consultant for the district.´ The Hispano/Latino Education Improvement Task Force (Task Force) was initiated by the Hispanic Round Table as an ad hoc, all-volunteer group of affiliated members to advocate and lobby for passage of the Hispanic Education Act to help address the Latino education crisis. LULAC, a national Latino organization and civil rights commission, one of the key advocates of the Hispanic Education Act and an endorser of the Task Force, is requesting an investigation immediately into the operations of the Task Force as it relates to the Taos Municipal contract to determine if any individuals or groups have benefitted personally from their affiliation and work with the Task Force either through personal contracts, state jobs, or federal/state grants intended for improving the education of Hispanic students. LULAC has an 81-year history of advocacy and does not allow use of its organization or endorsements to be co-opted for personal gain. Ralph Arellanes, LULAC NM State President and co-chair of the Hispano/Latino Education Improvement Task Force, is concerned that the Task Force members have been channeled into various state key positions and that there has been a blurring of the boundaries between certain members of the Task Force and the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED). Arellanes, as well as other members of the Task Force, have internally tried to address concerns related to the lack of transparency in redirecting its mission and in its operations; including what appears to be unethical practices. Further, Arellanes¶ and other members¶ attempts to address the issue of accountability of Armas; specifically the strategic placement of Task Force members by

Armas into NMPED, the awarding of contracts and more specifically of selling memberships to join the Task Force and solicitation of personal contracts has been met with responses to Arellanes to simply keep quiet and ³move forward.´ Some Task Force members, when probing for information or merely asking questions, were personally threatened and intimidated. Arellanes said that by using LULAC and other prominent individuals and recognized groups as an umbrella to paint a picture of legitimacy, certain Task Force members, with the benefit of confidential information and ³behind the scene relationships,´ have circumvented the original intent of the legislation which was to involve community stakeholders and create a statewide community education initiative, It is not to create a jobs program for a select cadre of Task Force members.

What is particularly troubling is that the Legislative Education Study Committee fiscal impact report; which analyzed the Hispanic Education Act, indicated that initial Bill HB 150 would have no fiscal impact on the state budget because it did not contain an appropriation and NMPED could accomplish the duties with existing staff and resources. What the analysis neglected to define was that HB 150 would be funded by a generous appropriation from Gov. Bill Richardson using Federal stimulus dollars. Arellanes is asking: Was Armas, co-chair of the Task Force, aware of the significant money that would be allocated? What was Armas¶ role as it relates to establishing a newly created educational department in PED, called Lograr and the funding of this new department? On Aug. 5, 2009 Gov/ Richardson announced his intentions for education reform. The governor committed $9.4 million to close the achievement gap and bring back 10,000 of New Mexico¶s dropouts. Richardson said the role of Lograr was to ³partner´ with the Hispano/Latino Education Improvement Task Force (an ad hoc advocacy group) and pledged $1.2 million in funding for Lograr This department will have an eight-member board with three members being appointed from the Task Force. Arellanes is uncomfortable with the vague language of the mission of Lograr will act as a resource broker to districts and schools when certain Task Force members already appear to be brokering their own for profit deals with school districts.

The final consideration in calling for an investigation arose when Arellanes questioned whether or not state employees violated professional standards of conduct. Recently, when communication alleging potential financial ethical impropriety within the Task Force was brought up in a ´closed´ meeting and via email to the newly appointed Hispanic Education Liaison, her response was ³everyone makes mistakes.´ The concerns were brushed aside. When concerned task force members requested information or meetings to address conflicts of interest they were denied access and the confidential requests for information/meetings were made public to the Task Force and announced during Task Force meetings to intimidate those making inquiries. Questions remain about how seven members of the task force would be appointed to the 23-member Hispanic Education Council. Arellanes is concerned that institutional oversight by NMPED has been compromised by enmeshment between members of the Task Force and NMPED key staff. Arellanes fears that this is an orchestrated action by a few to personally benefit from government cronyism.

Arellanes is stating that in order to protect and support our Latino students and the mission of LULAC, we must ensure monies are allocated properly, and any group operating or working with LULAC must ensure transparency and accountability, The questionable practices of the Hispano/Latino Education Improvement Task Force must be investigated and its operation temporarily discontinued to avoid any further impropriety, which protects the students that LULAC advocates for and the public that trusts that its tax dollars are serving the public good. Arellanes said, ³The worst part of these circumstances is that a year and a half since the inception of the Task Force and six months since passage of the Hispanic Education Act money has been allocated/spent and very few, if any, children have been assisted. More importantly, he is disappointed that the optimistic spirit and volunteer initiative envisioned by many Task Force members coming together to address a worthy mission has been hijacked by a few opportunists.

Additional Questions That Must Be Answered: 1. Was it proper for the Hispano/Latino Education Improvement Task Force to solicit and accept a $5,000 membership fee from the Taos School Board? 2. Was it proper for a Task Force member (co-chair) to solicit/accept a $200 per hour retainer sole source contract by the Taos? 3. Is it proper for the Task Force (an ad hoc committee) to conduct business and solicit public endorsements when it is not a recognized organization by any public or government institution? 4. Who (which groups/individuals) comprise the ³grass roots´ Hispano/Latino Educational Improvement Task Force and did the Task Force communicate the y were only an ad hoc group? 5. Where did the funding come to operate this ³grass roots´ ad hoc committee (including a Tribute Gala) to honor the Governor? 6. What is the Lograr Institute (who created it) and why has NMPED authorized the creation of a new $1.2 million dollar department/entity within NMPED when the Secretary of Education testified during the hearings regarding the fiscal impact of HB 150 that no additional staff would be hired to implement the Hispanic Education Act? 7. How will Lograr be funded in the future, once one time Federal Stimulus dollars are gone?

8. How can the Governor direct the Lograr Institute mission to be that it shall partner with the Hispanic Task Force (ad hoc committee) and why has he implemented ³all the requests´ of a

group which has no organizational structure, bylaws or legitimate process by which they operate?

9. Should the Task Force act as ³resource brokers to school districts and help schools redesign their school plans and match schools to interventions (Arellanes thinks this is pretty self serving coming from those who provide the services)?´

10. Currently, which school districts are they acting as consultants and resource brokers for? 11. Was it proper for former Secretary of NMPED Dr. Veronica Garcia to go outside the department (NMPED) to hire a NEW deputy/liaison (Hispanic Education Liaison) contrary to testimony given for HB 150 and rely on Jose Armas and the Task Force to create the job description/qualifications for the Education Liaison position?

12. After Secretary Garcia requested that Armas provide three members of the Task Force to volunteer to sit on a screening committee to finalize the job description and submit three finalists to her; (which in turn would finally be approved/appointed by the Governor); should NMPED have hired Mike Ogas Vice President of Educational Development for YDI and member of the Task Force; who originally created the job description and after he sat on the selection committee for the newly created position of Hispanic Education Liaison? 13. What contracts/RFP¶s; boards; councils related to the governor¶s education initiative and distribution of $9.4 million in Federal Stimulus dollars did Ogas have responsibility or influence before he left his position as Hispanic Education Liaison to return to work for School of Dreams Academy; a charter school partnered with YDI?

14. Which other Task Force members been funneled into the NMPED or offered personal/organizational contracts associated with Federal Education Stimulus as a result of their relationships/affiliation with Armas and their association with the Task Force?

15. Is NMPED providing the necessary oversight to assure the public that the fiduciary responsibility required and ethical code of conduct was followed; in light of the significant authority and investment of public tax dollars (was there inside information; relationships or practices that compromised the fiduciary duty or ethical code of conduct required by the State of New Mexico)? 16. Where is the $9.4 million in stimulus dollars and how is it being monitored?

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