Chávez Huerta Preparatory Academy (CHPA), the Pueblo charter school where Republican Senate candidate Stephen Varela serves as president of the board of directors, held an emergency meeting Saturday to appoint Richard Duran as interim CEO. According to Varela, former CHPA CEO Hal Stevens tendered his resignation Friday.
During his brief tenure at CHPA, Stevens made a series of unpopular personnel decisions that led to a contentious Aug. 9 board meeting where teachers, parents, and community members called for Stevens and Varela’s resignation. Varela claimed that the public comment during that meeting was politically motivated, a result of him running against Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (D-Pueblo).
“I do believe that we made a mistake in our hiring process, and I am deeply sorry and regret that,” said CHPA board secretary Angela Giron, who served in the Colorado Senate as a Democrat from 2011 until she was recalled in 2013 due to her support of gun control legislation. Giron said the appointment of Duran, “puts us on the right track. And then we can get a better assessment of where we are financially and what we need to do.”
Dennis Maes, a retired judge who Varela previously claimed was “very involved in with the Democratic Party,” raised concerns about the state of CHPA’s finances. “You have to understand that you have a right to know where the finances of this district are,” said Maes to the room, before the meeting was called to order. “But you don’t have a meeting where there’s an open meeting where you can actually see the budget and see what the status of that budget is, to ask questions, including how much they have in reserve.”
Saturday’s emergency meeting did not include a public comment period.
“I think there are some issues with the school and you know, the specifics of them, [I’m] probably not at liberty to say,” said Giron, when asked to confirm Maes’ claims. “I’m not sure I know all of them, and that’s why being able to get Dr. Duran in there, he has a lot of integrity. I have trust in him to be able to assess it and tell us, really, ‘This is what the deal is.’ I want him telling the public. I think every teacher, every parent needs to know it almost as soon as we know it. Why wouldn’t we all just learn it together? Because we’re going to have to solve it, any issues that are there, we’re going to solve it together, but there are some financial issues.”
The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11.
“I respect what you done for the school and you’re volunteering, but I think for a fresh start, you need to resign,” said John Kristan, a CHPA staff member who resigned in August in protest over Stevens and Varela’s leadership.
Varela was also named in a campaign finance complaint filed by Pueblo Democratic Party Chair Marybeth Corsentino, who claimed Varela failed to submit a candidate affidavit and financial disclosure and failed to report an expenditure, and then lied to the Secretary of State about running for Pueblo County Commissioner. Varela did not respond to the Colorado Times Recorder’s initial request for comment, and when asked about the complaint following Saturday’s board meeting said, “We’re here for the school today. I’m sorry. I have to separate [his Senate campaign and CHPA board duties].”
Varela told The Pueblo Chieftain, in a story published Sunday, that Corsentino’s complaint was “baseless” and a “highly partisan attack against me.”