During last week’s meeting of Chávez Huerta Preparatory Academy’s (CHPA) board of directors, interim president Angela Giron announced the resignation of Stephen Varela.

Varela, who was not present for last Wednesday’s meeting, served as board president during a tumultuous period that saw the hiring — and resignation — of a new CEO, Hal Stevens, increased staff turnover amid unpopular personnel decisions, concerns about the school’s financial situation, and repeated calls for Varela’s resignation from staff and community members. 

Following the announcement of Varela’s resignation, the board elected Giron as interim president, and swore in Joe Garcia and Don Ortega to fill recent vacancies. Preempted by news of Varela’s resignation, the meeting’s public comment period took a celebratory tone.

CHPA interim board president Angela Giron swears in new board member Joseph Garcia.

“Congratulations on taking back your school,” said retired judge Dennis Maes, who, like many of the public commenters that night, had planned to renew calls for Varela’s resignation.

Newly hired CEO Richard Duran, who was appointed during a Sept. 17 emergency board meeting to replace Stevens, provided clarity on CHPA’s financial situation, which stemmed in part from personnel shake-ups earlier this year. 

“When I arrived, due to a confluence of events, a perfect storm resulted in the finance department this past summer, which included loss of your finance personnel, and there was a period when we had one staff member, and no CEO was hired,” explained Duran. “Two new finance staff were hired in late August. This resulted in the lack of time to prepare adequately the [financial reports], which is part of our contract with District 60, which was due in September. Our two new people are working hard and trying to understand two things simultaneously — our finance system and then the processes by which we request funds from our authorizer to be able to support our cash flows. When I arrived, we were in a pretty severe cash flow situation, to cover the payable bills. We worked hard to recoup these funds and we made some progress in paying vendors. We’re still catching up.”

Varela, a Republican, has claimed that attacks on him in his role as CHPA’s board president were politically motivated, a result of his Senate campaign against Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (D-Pueblo). Early unofficial results show Hinrichsen leading Varela by 1,620 votes.

In addition to the turmoil at CHPA, Varela’s campaign has been marked by a campaign finance complaint that alleged he lied to the Secretary of State’s Office regarding an aborted Pueblo County Commissioner run, and concerns about his criminal record and brushes with the police.