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APS disputes charge of lavish renovations costing $850,000

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

There are no granite countertops or Persian rugs at Albuquerque Public Schools Central Office.

A recent remodel of district headquarters was necessary and economical, according to interim Chief Finance Officer Tami Coleman, who defended the much-scrutinized work in a Journal interview Monday.

“We didn’t put up gold wallpaper here,” Coleman said.

It’s a very different picture than the one presented in an external audit completed in October by McHard Accounting Consulting.

The auditors noted a claim they heard from “several different individuals” that former CFO Don Moya had spent $850,000 to remodel his office alone.

In fact, departments on two floors and the superintendent’s office suite were revamped at a cost of around $460,000, according to documents obtained by the Journal through a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

The bulk of the money – $416,000 – was spent on departments on the third and fifth floors, which got new carpet, paint and furniture.

A number of rooms also had walls added or removed to change their function. For instance, part of a conference room was turned into an office.

In the superintendent’s suite on the sixth floor, a few walls were moved and carpet was replaced at the request of then-Superintendent Luis Valentino, who began the job this past summer and was forced to resign a few months later.

On Friday, APS spokesman Rigo Chavez gave the Journal a tour of the remodeled offices, which looked no more lavish than any other commercial building.

Cubicles and other furniture are basic; the carpet is industrial grade.

Moya’s old office was part of the remodeling project, completed in spring 2015, but it makes up a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 square feet involved.

He and his staff received new furniture worth around $20,000, according to APS documents. Chavez said the space also was recarpeted and a few walls were shifted.

Moya did order the work, Coleman said, but the motivation wasn’t to give him cushy digs.

Instead, APS wanted to move the accounts payable department from the third floor to the fifth to put it next to procurement and enhance collaboration, Coleman said.

Accounts payable took over space that had been occupied by business systems, creating a domino effect of departments shifting, including legislative affairs, information technology and charter schools.

Coleman said a factor in the cost was the complex logistics required to complete the construction while not stopping district business.

Crews took on one department at a time, coming in during the afternoon and working until midnight or 1 a.m.

The system allowed district employees to get back into their offices after about 24 hours, but it took three or four months to finish the project, Coleman said.

“I am sure that increased the cost, but that is the only way we could operate,” she said. “We can’t shut down accounts payable for a month.”

Given the utilitarian look of APS Central Office, Coleman said she is mystified by the $850,000 figure cited in the McHard audit.

“It surprised me,” she said. “That was my first question: ‘Where did that come from?'”

The auditors noted the figure, but said they did not check further because the remodeling was outside the scope of their investigation. They urged district officials to look into it.

APS had hired McHard to examine Moya’s allegation that the district violated procurement policies when considering outside audits of several departments this past summer.

Moya and Valentino butted heads over the proposed audits, ending with Valentino placing Moya on paid administrative leave Aug. 7.

Valentino resigned a few weeks later amid revelations that his hand-picked deputy superintendent was facing child sex assault and assault charges in Denver.

Moya is set to return to APS in February but not as CFO. Acting Superintendent Raquel Reedy reassigned him to a new position, financial systems architect.