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Hernandez, wife out at Cesar Chavez?

Earlier versions of this story misidentified a Cesar Chavez Schools Network employee who was placed on paid administrative leave. This version is correct.

Pueblo news outlets Thursday were reporting that three leaders at the Cesar Chavez Schools Network have been suspended by board president Dennis Feuerstein.

Lawrence Hernandez and his wife Annette, who founded the original Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo, along with Velia Rincon, recently appointed to run the network’s online school, were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of two state audits, Feuerstein told the Pueblo Chieftain.

Neither Feuerstein nor Lawrence Hernandez could be reached for comment. Hernandez’s voice mailbox on his cell phone was full.

Feuerstein and other members of the network’s governing board are scheduled to meet Friday afternoon and are expected then to discuss the future of the three administrators.

Today’s action follows a turbulent week in which Hernandez publicly fought with administrators of the network’s online school, GOAL Academy, over control of the school. At one point, teachers and other GOAL staff were locked out of their offices and students were denied access to course materials.

Alex Medler, board chairman at the Charter School Institute, which holds the charter for the network, said the board requested Wednesday that staff look into possible revocation of the charter.

Click here to read the Chieftain’s short article on the latest developments, and here to read a short story by the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Hernandez was invited to the White House and his school spotlighted in a video by the U.S. Department of Education after he opened the original campus of Cesar Chavez in Pueblo. His students, mostly Hispanic and many of them poor, outperformed their peers on state tests.

But allegations of cheating on those tests and rumors about financial misspending have tailed Hernandez and his wife even as they expanded from one Pueblo school to campuses in Colorado Springs and Denver.

In May, Feuerstein defended the salaries paid to the Hernandezes and to chief finance officer Jason Guerrero, saying they “absolutely” deserved the increases as enrollment grew.

Internal Revenue Service documents obtained by Ed News Colorado found Hernandez received a 53 percent pay increase in three years, from $171,466 in 2005 to $261,732. Guerrero’s pay rose 80 percent during that same time, to $247,797 in 2007.

Annette Hernandez did not receive a salary in 2005 or 2006 but was paid $134,826 in 2007.

A couple of months later, in July, Ed News found more than half the students at Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo received extra time or other special accommodations when they took state reading and math tests in 2007 and 2008, according to data from state education officials.

Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones announced an audit of state testing and financial practices at the Cesar Chavez schools that same month, responding to a request from outgoing Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington.

Almost immediately, Hernandez balked at producing some of the data requested by Jones for the audit, calling it “completely unreasonable.”

Wednesday, as news of the standoff at Goal Academy spread and allegations of documents destruction surfaced, Jones issued a press release saying he was “extremely concerned” by the reports and said anyone who knew about records being destroyed should report it to police.

Click here to read a special report by Ed News about Cesar Chavez and and its founder, Lawrence Hernandez. Click here to read a profile of Hernandez.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at nmitchell@pebc.org.