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Hernandez tells state that Cesar Chavez won't comply with audit of network

In a move akin to telling an IRS auditor to get the hell off your porch, Lawrence Hernandez, CEO of the Cesar Chavez Network of charter schools, has sent a letter to Colorado Department of Education Commissioner Dwight Jones saying the network has no plans to meet deadlines for an audit.

The undated letter starts in a conciliatory tone, promising "transparent" cooperation, then turns aggressive, calling one request "completely unreasonable."

"In my previous conversations with staff and based on the tone of your letter, it is clear that each one of our staff will now be requesting that they each be represented by an independent attorney," Hernandez writes.

The Chavez network, with schools in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, plus one opening in Denver, faces accusations of cheating on state exams and mismanaging finances. Jones decided to audit Chavez after then-Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington sent him a June letter requesting an investigation. Pueblo City Schools (PCS) charters two Chavez schools; the rest are overseen by the state's Charter School Institute.

The state recently hired Caveon Test Security of Salt Lake City to audit the Chavez network's testing practices. Caveon expects to finish Oct. 23. A separate firm will be hired to audit network finances.

Hernandez finds "completely unreasonable" a request for a list of Chavez employees from 2006-8, which he was asked to provide by Aug. 11. (The state later changed the deadline to Aug. 12, due to a clerical error.)

Hernandez says his staff was too busy preparing "five separate audits," starting the school year and opening two new campuses (though, actually, only one new school is opening).

"Further," he writes, "all of these records are either archived or may not even exist."

One little problem with that: The state requires that all public schools keep detailed employee records — and turn in copies annually. So Hernandez ought to have them.

Hernandez, though — after telling Jones he wouldn't or couldn't provide several other documents — apparently feels no obligation to follow state orders.

When the state recently asked Hernandez to make students and staff available for the audit, he told the Pueblo Chieftain, "I'm the only one who will do this audit. This does not involve any teachers or students. It will only involve myself."

Sound familiar? In a 2005 report, John Brainard, then-PCS director of assessment and research, found unusual patterns in Colorado Student Assessment Program tests from a Chavez school, leading him to suspect systemized cheating.

Brainard's investigation was thwarted when Hernandez ordered Chavez staff and students to keep quiet. Hernandez, apparently, said he would be the sole contact on the inquiry — then ignored Brainard's request for information.

Hernandez apparently does have time for a chat. In the letter, he requests a meeting with Jones, "the attorney general, myself, our COO, CEO, our board president, our legal firm, Pueblo District 60 legal counsel and at least several of the attorneys who may be representing the individual staff members and parents."

A Department of Education spokesperson says there will be no statement from Jones or anyone at the department until the audit is completed.

stanley@csindy.com

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