TUSD’s Promotoras Ponzi Scheme costs disadvantaged students over $3.5 million

We all recoil at the thought of stealing candy from a baby, and the thought that someone could steal from economically disadvantaged children is simply too much for most of us. Can you imagine how much worse Bernie Madoff’s scheme would have been if he had held himself out as a community leader dedicated to social justice while he targeted children living in poverty?

If the thought of that is unimaginable, think again. We are talking about TUSD where exploiting kids’ for adults’ prestige, politics, and power has become nationally recognized. The bill for the Promotoras Ponzi Scheme has finally come due and the over $3.5 million demanded by the ADE is not enough; someone or some people need to go to jail.

Title 1 monies are federal dollars intended for the educational needs of economically disadvantaged students. Most educators regard Title 1 monies as precious and as vulnerable as the intended recipients. At least one TUSD staff member did not share that sentiment and began a scheme that lasted nearly five years.

The scheme was operated out of the Rose Family and Wellness Center. The scheme was described on district materials as, “a grass roots group of community residents who work as promotoras in our community. Derechos Humanos/Immigration issues is one of the target areas of our work. We organize groups to participate in activities to strengthen our Latino voice, involvement and education.” At the time they claimed that more than “150 women have undergone training to participate in the program.”

The scheme began to unravel in August 2010 when the Arizona Department of Education received information from a citizen in the Tucson Unified School District. The concerned citizen “questioned whether the use of Title 1 funds was allowable for the Promotoras program” at TUSD. The ADE determined that the citizen’s concerns had merit, and an investigation began.

On September 16, Robert Ross, legal counsel for TUSD released a statement saying that the district had “taken steps to end its support of an adult-education program connected with “Promotoras del Barrio,” after identifying disallowable uses of federal Title I funds. Over time, the Promotoras del Barrio activities expanded from literacy programs into tuition for areas not covered by Title I expenses such as health, human, and social services.”

The statement concludes: “In August, 2009, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lupita Garcia identified this shift in focus, halted funding of the adult education program, and subsequently initiated a months-long investigation into the Promotoras program’s operations and financing. In December, 2009, Rosalva Bullock, the employee who administered the program, requested and was granted a district-approved leave. TUSD received notice of the disallowance and demand for return of monies on June 8, 2011.”

Rosalva Bullock has been a recent political appointee of Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias. She serves on the Pima County Outside Agency Community Advisory Committee.