Update: After the following story went to press, the state Public Education Department issued a statement announcing that Mora Superintendent Charles Trujillo has surrendered his education licenses.
“When we learned of the claims against Superintendent Charles Trujillo, we immediately launched an investigation and began working with State Police,” PED spokesman Robert McEntyre wrote. “This afternoon, Superintendent Trujillo has agreed to surrender his education licenses.”
In his statement, McEntyre writes that despite the fact that Trujillo surrendered his education licenses, the PED’s investigation is continuing.
“We will take swift action and hold those accountable for any wrongdoing,” he added.
Without an administrative license, Trujillo cannot continue serving as the superintendent in Mora.
The state Public Education Department is taking steps to suspend the license of Mora Independent School District Superintendent Charles Trujillo as the Mora school board prepares to place the embattled superintendent on paid leave this Thursday.
Meanwhile, a state PED employee issued a statement on Tuesday saying that she informed her supervisors and the agency’s Ethics Bureau well over a year ago “that something was wrong with the issuance of the licenses that are now mentioned in the newspaper reports.”
The fallout stems from an investigative report published by the Optic on Sunday that found that Trujillo faked his credentials in order to obtain an administrative license. Among other things, Trujillo submitted a falsified Highlands University transcript to PED purporting to verify that he earned a master’s degree. Highlands officials said that he never earned a master’s degree from the institution.
In addition, three letters were submitted to the PED’s Professional Licensure Bureau exaggerating the amount of higher education administration and teaching experience Trujillo had.
The faked transcript and embellished employment verifications were relied upon by PED in issuing Trujillo four educator licenses, including an administrative license that Trujillo later used to get a job as an assistant superintendent with the Pecos school district and most recently as the superintendent of the Mora school district.
He obtained his licenses while serving as the chief of the PED licensure bureau.
Both Highlands and the state Public Education Department have launched investigations after being notified of the Optic’s findings.
So far, the PED investigation has uncovered what appears to be an additional deception on Trujillo’s part.
Trujillo did not submit official transcripts to the Mora school board when he applied for the superintendent job there, despite that being a requirement. But a letter purporting to be from PED Education Consultant Michelle Lewis and addressed to the school board chairman appears to verify the falsified transcripts as authentic.
PED spokesman Robert McEntyre told the Optic that the letter appears to be fraudulent.
Lewis submitted a statement of her own to the Optic on Tuesday in which she denies writing, sending or signing the letter.
“I have seen my name bandied about in a few newspaper articles this weekend and today, regarding what appears to be an effort to conceal an inappropriate, if not illegal, issuance of a license or licenses to a former New Mexico Public Education Department employee, who happens to have been my boss,” Lewis states. “I want to make it very clear that I have never assented to the issuance of these reported licenses nor have I communicated with the chairman of the school board regarding copies/official transcripts belonging to Mr. Charles Trujillo.”
Lewis states that she did not participate as a state employee or as a private individual in what appears to be a scheme to assist in something that could compromise her integrity and her own licensure as an educator.
“Those who know me personally are aware that it has been my practice as a public employee to speak truth to power, despite having been retaliated against in the past,” Lewis states. “In this particular instance, I informed my supervisors as well as the ethics bureau within the PED well over a year ago that something was wrong with the issuance of the licenses that are now mentioned in the newspaper reports.”
She states that if anyone forged or otherwise attached her signature to any documents related to this matter, “I fully expect them to be appropriately dealt with under the law.”
Lewis states that any additional statements she makes will be to law enforcement.
The letter attributed to Lewis is on PED letterhead and is addressed to Mora school board chairman George A. Trujillo, Charles Trujillo’s uncle. It is dated May 8, 2015. It was provided to the Optic by the school district in response to a request under the state’s open records law.
The letter states, in part, “Copies of official transcripts (attached) were provided to Mr. Charles Trujillo directly from the Professional Licensure Bureau of the New Mexico Department of Education. Official transcripts submitted directly from a post-secondary institution are required for professional licensure as stated by the New Mexico Administrative Code…”
The Optic sought comment from Lewis before publishing its initial story, but she did not respond before the issue went to press.
McEntyre, the PED spokesman, said his agency is looking into Lewis’ assertion that she previously reported suspicions about Trujillo’s licenses to PED officials.
On Monday night, McEntyre issued a statement of his own.
“Based on the information available, we have initiated the process to suspend Superintendent Trujillo’s administrative license,” McEntyre states. “Furthermore, we believe the letter that Superintendent Trujillo submitted to the board is not authentic. As we have said before, we take this very seriously and have handed this information over to state police.”
The story has also garnered the attention of New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who has been speaking to District Attorney Richard Flores about the matter.
“The DA has contacted me,” Balderas said. “We have communicated. Our office is monitoring the situation. I’ll be in contact with PED.”
State Auditor Tim Keller said Tuesday that his office doesn’t have much authority on the matter, since it isn’t technically a public funds issue. But he said his office is considering making a change to PED’s audit process that would require the independent auditor looking at PED’s books to review the types of background checks that PED is currently doing.
The Mora school district has scheduled a special school board meeting for Thursday. Among the action items on the board’s agenda are placing Trujillo on paid administrative leave pending the PED investigation, appointing an acting superintendent and delegating to the board vice chair and another board member the authority to negotiate a temporary contract for the acting superintendent.