An Argument for School-Level Budget Transparency: New Mexico Edition

In one New Mexico school district, an employee manages to steal more than $3 million over three years.

Kathy Borrego, the district’s former business manager, is suspected of masterminding the embezzlement scheme that involved stealing more than 530 checks, forging signatures and clearing them through the Valley National Bank in Española over seven years, according to an executive summary of the special audit.

Five hundred and thirty five of the checks were cashed or deposited into various personal accounts, while three checks were “provided to other subjects who cashed or deposited the amounts into their accounts,” the summary shows.

It is unclear who those other individuals are.

But it is clear that Borrega was controlling the money going in and out of the school district, Balderas said. “She was shifting balances and even altering [bank] statements,” he said.

While checks were drawn on 10 separate school district accounts, Borrego allegedly used the payroll account and an account called “SB-9″ more than the others to pull off the scheme, the summary shows. A total of 104 checks totaling $621,000 were drawn on the payroll account while 210 checks worth more than $1.34 million were drawn on the “SB-9″ account, according to the summary.

Good fiscal practices demand divvying up duties, say putting one person in charge of purchasing, another of bank statements and still another watching the internal ledger, Balderas said. “All this was consolidated under her,” he said.

Another level of transparency would also help. School districts should be required to publish school-level budget data in real dollars not in district averages. If New Mexico citizens had access to school checkbooks in that district–it would have made it more difficult to complete the fraudulent transactions. As a recent Education Week commentary, “Democratize School Budget Data,” argues, “All school checkbook expenditures should be made accessible online—and in a structured, downloadable database that would allow citizens to search for and slice and dice the data in whatever way they might want?”