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Former Lukachukai manager: School finances not resolved

CHINLE

The former facility manager for Lukachukai Community School says the school board asked him to look into discrepancies in the school’s finances, but when he found some he was shunned and retaliated against until he felt compelled to resign. And no action has been taken on the finances to date, he said.

The school board president, however, says an independent investigation and audit were contracted and neither the investigator nor auditor found evidence of any wrongdoing.

Eugene Glasses was hired as the school’s facility manager in 2017, fresh off his graduation with a master’s in business administration. One of the first things the principal and school board asked him to do, he said, was to try to get the school reimbursed for $233,572 worth of playground equipment that the school had paid for out of its minor improvements and repair fund in 2015 in hopes of getting refunded by the Bureau of Indian Education.

“They were playing shell games with the money,” said Glasses.

School Board President Jaye Tom says they had cleared the process with the BIE, but the bureau balked when the school submitted its paperwork for the reimbursement, saying it had been an improper expenditure.

According to a letter to the BIE from then-principal Sandi Beeman dated Aug. 30, 2018, the two men who had negotiated the deal between the school and the BIE had both left their posts by then.

But when Glasses started looking at the carryover budgets from the last five years, he found the playground equipment was the tip of the iceberg. Documents he shared with the Navajo Times show projects budgeted for and never done; projects done that weren’t budgeted; and “the school just sitting on piles of money,” as Glasses put it.

Tallied up, there should have been $1.042 million at the end of fiscal 2015. But, according to Glasses, there was only $73,000 in the account when he took over. “Why is there a huge difference?” he asked. “No one had answers.”

At first, Glasses’ inclination was to look the other way. After all, he was the facility manager, not the accountant. “I actually did look the other way for about a year,” he said. “Then I remembered the oath I took when I got my MBA.”

Among other pledges, the MBA oath binds the graduate to pursue his work “in an ethical manner” to “safeguard the interests of my shareholders …”

In this case, Glasses said, his shareholders were the U.S. taxpayers. “I don’t think anybody would like to know a million dollars of their tax money is unaccounted for,” he said. In June of 2018, Glasses brought his findings to Beeman and the board.

“Eventually, it became a directive” for Glasses to continue to look into the prior years’ budgets, he said. But he also got a vibe that the board was not really on board. At one meeting, they seemed to be blaming him for the mess-ups. “I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this,’” he said. “‘It seems like this has been going on for years and years.’”

Glasses began copying his findings to Tamara Pfeiffer, the BIE’s associate deputy director of Navajo schools, and Rena Yazzie, the BIE’s education program administrator in Shiprock. “They just kicked it back to the lower-down people and nothing happened,” Glasses said.

By the fall of 2018, Glasses was starting to feel some resentment from Beeman and the board. Beeman had at first asked for quarterly reports of his activities, which seemed reasonable, but then started demanding monthly, weekly, daily and finally hourly reports, to which Glasses apparently complied (he shared an hour-by-hour report with the Times).

He says he was excluded from trainings and vital information, and blamed for a water leak he had warned Beeman was about to happen. After one heated meeting with Beeman, during which he says she yelled at him to “get out of here,” he filed a harassment complaint and, after the investigation, was advised to obtain counseling.

In May of 2019, Glasses decided to summarize all his financial findings in what he called “Position Paper No. 1,” which he presented to the board. Position Paper No. 1 did not mince words.

He variously described the school’s financial records as “absurd,” “muddled,” and “hideous” and asked for a third-party investigation to find the responsible parties. According to Tom, the board asked the school’s law firm to appoint an investigator and contract an auditor to look into Glasses’ findings.

“They had no findings, other than the playground equipment, which we already knew about,” he said. The school’s business department did not return a phone call to confirm that. Glasses doubts the audit was impartial. “The investigator was hired by the board’s lawyers,” he pointed out. “How is that third-party?”

At the same time all this was going on, Glasses was doing his job. He was tallying up all the repairs needed at the school and thought he could make a good case to the BIE that it would be less expensive to replace the school completely.

He drafted a board resolution and submitted a cost estimate to the BIE in August, and it was funded. The new school is currently under construction. “Nobody even bothered to thank me except one teacher,” Glasses said. He resigned shortly thereafter.

Glasses says he considers his resignation a “constructive discharge”; in other words the board and principal deliberately made Glasses’ life so unbearable he was forced to quit.

“The stress I was under was activating my PTSD,” said Glasses, a combat veteran.

Tom disagrees. “We did an investigation, which is what he asked for,” he said. “The BIE is aware of everything he found. There wasn’t any forcing. He chose to resign.”

Glasses said he’s been approached about other jobs, but he doesn’t think he’ll work on the reservation again, at least not for a grant school.

“Who is holding these schools accountable for the taxpayers’ money?” he asked. “Who else could I have turned to? I don’t see these schools focusing on our future generations. As long as they’re in a stagnant, set-apart mindset, you’re not going to make a difference at one of these schools.”



About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.

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