DENVER – Adams 12 Five Star school district has had a few growing pains in their effort to remain one of Colorado’s top performing, most populous school districts while also maintaining fiscal stability.
One was a decision to fire two teachers last year for stealing thousands of dollars intended for school trips for students – a decision that was recently upheld by Colorado Court of Appeals.
Adams 12 fired the two longtime Northglenn Middle School teachers, a husband and wife duo, Johnny and Pam Trujillo for “insubordination and immorality” on October 14, 2011.
According to a CBS report, Pam Trujillo had taught at Northglenn Middle School for 16 years, while her husband, Johnny, had been in the district for 14 years.
The Trujillo’s were accused of stealing money intended for school trips, raised from bingo fundraisers, for their own use. After conducting a thorough internal audit, the district found $25,000 of the money raised for a student trip to New York actually went directly to Trujillo family and friends. It also concluded some of the money had been used to make a down payment on a trip to Rome.
After Johnny Trujillo was fired, he sued the Adams 12 Board of Education, disputing the charges. In March of 2012 the lower court ruled in favor of the district.
The court stated in the final order, that “[the Board] adequately established the fact that Johnny Trujillo used the Northglenn Middle School’s name to fundraise money for Drama Club educational travel that was instead used for travel for his family including his mother-in-law, father-in-law, nephew and younger children.”
The court further determined that the facts adequately “established that the purpose of the fundraising was not for Drama Club students as set forth in the application Trujillo submitted to the State of Colorado, since no Drama Club student was signed up for or aware of the trip to Rome, when the deposit was placed with a travel company six months prior to the scheduled trip.”
But students were not the only victims. It appears that the venue that hosted the fundraisers the Trujillo’s set up was also left holding the bag.
Jan Kissell, co-owner of Hollywood Bingo, where the Trujillo’s held the fundraiser, told a CBS4 Investigator that the Trujillos essentially snuck out the back door, still owing the bingo parlor $14,000.
At the end of 2012, Hollywood Bingo in Wheat Ridge was forced to close their doors permanently after 17 years in business.
According to Adams 12 Communications Director Joe Ferdani, the union arranged for Johnny Trujillo’s legal representation in all court proceedings. The district has spent over $25,000 defending their decision to fire him already, and Trujillo has requested his case be heard by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Despite the severity of the charges against her, Pam Trujillo began a new job in education in September. She now serves as Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Ricardo Flores Magon Academy in unincorporated Adams County.
Adams 12 has been fighting an uphill battle to initiate school reforms for years, and those efforts may finally be paying off. In January, they reported increasing their graduation rate by 5 percent to 79 percent, a figure that exceeds the statewide average.
Adams 12 is also among the districts that have used staff and community input to make budget reductions while maintaining focus on efficient operations and the core instructional mission of educating Adams County students.
According to an investigation by Fox31 Denver reported by Our Colorado News, in the last three years the district has cut more than $56 million from the budget, $12 million alone for the 2012-13 school year.
Even so, the district and the teachers’ union have disagreed about where savings can be found.
Faced with a choice last year between eliminating 120 teaching positions or requiring all teachers to contribute an additional 1.5% of their own salaries to their retirement fund PERA, district made the choice to keep 120 teachers in the classroom – asking teachers for a greater investment in their own pensions.
The union leadership bristled at the idea, and the issue was sent to arbitration. The matter remains unresolved.