Editorial: Charter probe a wake-up call

When the FBI was seen toting boxes out of the Southwest Learning Centers headquarters in Albuquerque, red flags went up in the public charter school community.

The FBI is investigating the school, and Scott Glasrud, a founder and administrator of the centers, resigned on Thursday.

The investigation is focused on two of the centers’ four charters – Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics, and Science Academy and Southwest Secondary Learning Center, and their dealings with Southwest Educational Consultants Inc., a private company that does business under the name Diamond Aviation.

It is co-owned by Glasrud and Dolly Juarez, also an administrator at Southwest Secondary Learning Center, according to a state audit.

The audit says the two charters have spent $1.1 million since 2008 to lease aircraft from Diamond Aviation without a transparent, competitive bidding process.

Conflicts of interest and “potential violations of law” occurred on numerous occasions in recent years when the two schools contracted with Diamond Aviation, State Auditor Hector Balderas wrote.

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Charters tend to have more autonomy than regular public schools, but this case shows there is a need for greater oversight by the state or school district when it comes to finances.

And charters should remember to keep a generous arm’s length from any financial interests of their employees or other potential conflicts of interest.

Taxpayers foot the bill for charter schools. So they have a vested interest in knowing the money is well spent. This should be a wake-up call.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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