Ex-BMS teacher investigated for band fundraiser

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Belen Consolidated Schools officials launched an internal investigation after learning a Belen Middle School teacher might have been involved in inappropriate fundraising for the school's band.

Christina Halstead submitted her resignation and three checks totaling to $3,725 on May 22 to the school district, while the investigation was still underway.

"We're still looking into the situation," said Belen Superintendent Ron Marquez.

The district plans on filing a report with the New Mexico Public Education Department's Educator Ethics Bureau against Halstead for not following the proper fundraising procedures.

Marquez said they are not sure if they will file criminal charges against Halstead, but will do so if any money is missing.

"The police are aware of the situation and if money is missing, charges will be filed, but to our knowledge no money is missing," Marquez said.

Halstead didn't respond to phone calls and messages left by the News-Bulletin.

Marquez learned about the situation a week before school ended after a parent called him. The parent was concerned, Marquez said, because she had given Halstead money to purchase doughnuts from Krispy Kreme for a fundraiser but had not received a receipt.

Belen Middle School Principal Sheila Armijo confirmed in a letter that Halstead asked each student to bring in a blank check to pitch in for the entire order. Students were told the money would be deposited into a middle school band booster club account to buy the entire purchase. But Armijo said there is no such booster club or any such account.

"There is a high school band booster club, but not a middle school band booster club," Marquez said.

Armijo told Marquez she was not aware of Halstead's fundraising efforts until the investigation began.

When approached by school officials, Halstead, who was on leave at the time, "openly admitted" she had been fundraising for the band, Marquez said.

In a statement given to school officials, the two-year band teacher said she asked her own children's Albuquerque Public School booster club to lend her the money to buy the doughnuts.

She then gave school officials a check for $300 and a second check for $400. Marquez said the teacher had some spare change from the fundraiser in her classroom.

Five days later, she turned in her resignation, along with a third check for $3,025.

"But where did this money come from? We don't know," Marquez said.

Since Halstead didn't leave a paper trail of the purchases and sales, the district doesn't know how many doughnuts were sold, how much the doughnuts were sold for, how long Halstead had been collecting the money, who the doughnuts were sold to or how much money was raised.

To raise funds for the district, a teacher must first fill out a purchase requisition to receive a purchase order to buy the items in bulk from the company. As the fundraiser proceeds, the teacher must deposit the money with the district within 24 hours of receiving it.

"At the end, it shows how many items were sold, profit and margin," Marquez said.

Marquez said Halstead claims she didn't go through the proper channels because Krispy Kreme doesn't accept purchase orders, but the superintendent said that wouldn't have been a problem.

"In that circumstance, we would've asked for an invoice and cut the company a check," Marquez said.

In the investigation, school officials searched Halstead's classroom for additional funds raised as well as completed an inventory on band and classroom equipment.

Although school officials are unsure of the reason behind the fundraisers, Marquez said it may have been to take the band students to additional music-related activities and extracurricular events.

Curricular activities are paid for out of the operational budget while extracurricular activities, such as performing at the New Mexico State Fair, are paid for through fundraising efforts.

Anytime an individual is donating funds or purchasing an item for a school, they must ask for a receipt and make checks out to the Belen Consolidated Schools, Marquez stressed.

He estimated the district would conclude the investigation within the next month. At that time, funds raised for the band will be released for its use.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.