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La Promesa charter school has probation lifted

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque charter school marked by an embezzlement scandal has met the requirements of its corrective action plan.

The state Public Education Commission unanimously voted last month to lift La Promesa Early Learning Center from the probationary period it has been on for the past two school years.

In 2017, an investigation by the Office of the State Auditor found that La Promesa former assistant business manager Julieanne Maestas allegedly diverted roughly $500,000 from the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade charter school into her personal bank account. In addition, she deposited about $177,000 worth of questionable checks.

That investigation followed a finding by then-Auditor Tim Keller that her mother, La Promesa founder and former Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Analee Maestas, paid about $340 for duct cleaning at her home, then wrote over the receipt to make it appear the cleaning company had worked on carpets at La Promesa to allow for reimbursement.

La Promesa got its school grade to a C in the 2017-18 school year, up from an F the year prior – one of the requirements of its corrective action plan.

The school faced possible, immediate revocation while it worked on its improvement plan.

Since the plan was put in place, the school has recovered $650,000 that was embezzled, the school says.

The school, which has 348 students enrolled, was founded in 2008 by Analee Maestas, who later blamed her daughter’s substance abuse for the embezzlement. She resigned from the APS board about a year ago.

During the six-year period that Julieanne Maestas allegedly diverted school funds, the state Public Education Department audited La Promesa annually using an independent auditor, but never flagged possible fraud or embezzlement.

In a written statement Tuesday, head administrator Chris Jones praised the students and families of La Promesa, and assured them that all the school’s money has been spent on students and staff.

“Our school meeting the rigorous goals outlined in the CAP is something worthy of celebration for the entire La Promesa community,” Jones said.

“The last two years have been intense for all involved. When fight or flight became our only two options, the core La Promesa staff committed to fighting for our students and families, and put students first through critical actions instead of empty words; we prevailed, and that feeling is indescribable.”