The former administrator of an Albuquerque charter school being investigated by the FBI may have influenced the governor's veto of legislation that would have brought more regulations to charter schools.
During the 2013 state legislative session, state Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Bernalillo, carried a bill that would have, among other things, barred charter schools from making contracts with companies that the schools' employees or representatives have stakes in.
It was this part of Beffort's "School Leases & Interest Conflicts" act that Scott Glasrud, then-head administrator of Southwest Secondary Learning Centers (SSLC), took issue with in an April 2013 email to state Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera.
Beffort's bill had passed both chambers by wide margins, including unanimously in the state House of Representatives. But Gov. Susana Martinez gave it a pocket veto after the session.
Whether he influenced the process or not, this was exactly what Glasrud requested from Skandera.
"As written, SB333 should receive a VETO in its current form and the language should be worked out in the interim," Glasrud wrote to her.
Among concerns about SSLC are Glasrud's co-ownership of a company that leases a building to the charter school. An audit also found that the school had spent $1.1 million on airplane rentals for its aviation program with the company, Diamond Aviation. Last summer, the FBI raided the school and seized documents.
A federal investigation is into the school is pending. PED's role in overseeing the school has been questioned.
But Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, says that charter school accountability has increased "dramatically" in recent years here. Beffort's bill, Knell says, "had some very good components in it, including disclosure requirements that are a step in the right direction."
"But the measure would have left kids out in the cold because it automatically kicked in, closing down schools immediately and hurting students," Knell says. "The measure would’ve also taken away critical flexibility between our school districts and charter schools."
In Glasrud's email to Skandera, the former administrator admits his school's situation was raising eyebrows.
"In full disclosure, this provision was written into SB333 because of the interim [Legislative Finance Committee] report that identified apparent conflicts of interest by charter operators, administrators, and Board members," he wrote. "I had one of those apparent conflicts of interest."
But Glasrud went on to write that all his conflicts were disclosed with the charter school's governing board before the contracts were made. Then he outlines how Beffort's legislation violates the state constitution and three state statutes.
The state constitution, he argues, doesn't allow the state to "immediately VOID existing contracts." He also cited a provision of the State Procurement Code that allows waivers "from contemporaneous employment and unlawful employee participation."
Charter school leases need to be flexible, Glasrud argued, because "many charter schools are set up for specific purposes and to serve specific populations."
"For example, schools set up to work with incarcerated youth are generally located within jails," he wrote.
At the end of the letter, Glasrud urges Skandera to do what she can. "I understand the Governor's Office is planning to review this legislation this evening," Glasrud wrote her. "Your assistance in bringing these concerns to her attention is greatly appreciated!"
Skandera responded with a thanks, saying she'll take his comments into consideration. PED Chief of Staff Ellen Hur says that the education department "agrees with the general concept" of Beffort's bill, "but had some concerns about potential unanticipated outcomes." She adds that it's "common practice" for every state agency to share feedback on legislation with the state legislature and the governor's office.
Knell adds that Martinez "would support this bill with the minor tweaks it would need to address the unintended consequences."
Glasrud resigned from his position at the charter school shortly after the FBI raid.
Read Glasrud's email to Skandera below: