Pa.'s top fiscal watchdog: ASPIRA's CEO should go

The operator of several area charter schools, supported with your tax dollars, will get a hard look from Pennsylvania's top fiscal watchdog after a FOX 29 Investigates report.

The auditor general also has strong words for the group's CEO, FOX 29 Investigative Reporter Jeff Cole says.

"You paid her, your insurer paid her $350,000. She said you sexually harassed her. Did you sexually harass her?" Cole asked.

ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania CEO Alfredo B. Calderon replied, "Sir, I am willing to set up a meeting, sir."

After viewing our report - revealing that city charter school operator ASPIRA settled and sealed a sexual harassment claim made by a former top educator against its CEO - Pennsylvania's fiscal watchdog was blunt.

"Should he continue to work for this entity that oversees charters in this city after this situation?" Cole asked.

"I believe the answer to that is no," Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said.

"You believe they should have fired him?" Cole asked.

"Yes," DePasquale said.

But Calderon, who according to tax records earns over $200,000 yearly, was not fired. He has remained the leader of the nonprofit, which receives tens-of-millions in tax dollars to run five charter schools.

FOX 29 Investigates learned the details of the $350,000 payment to ASPIRA's former Chief Academic Officer, Evelyn Nunez, after the nonprofit was sued by an insurance company for non-payment of a bill.

Cole: "Why did you settle…"
Calderon: "I will be willing to set up a meeting, sir."
Cole: "…a $350,000 sexual harassment case with Ms. Nunez?"
Calderon: "Sir, I understand, sir."
Cole: "Did you harass her?"
Calderon: "Sir, I can't..."
Cole: "You can tell me about it?"
Calderon: "Sir, I can set up a meeting with you."

That meeting never happened. Instead, ASPIRA'S spokesman, Kevin Feeley, wrote, "We would very much like to share the details of the case but we are prohibited from doing so by the terms of the settlement agreement."

He added that "under Mr. Calderon's leadership ASPIRA has hired women in key leadership positions throughout the organization and it has established a strict no-tolerance policy with respect to discrimination of any kind."

In a recent "Dear Colleagues" letter sent to employees, and obtained by FOX 29, the board chairs of ASPIRA of Pa. Inc. and ASPIRA schools wrote "your management, leadership and CEO [Calderon] have the full support and confidence of the board members."

And the letter continues, "…we won't let disruptions from outside parties get in the way of this important work."

DePasquale told us, "Pennsylvania has the worst charter school law in the United States."

The auditor general says state's charter school law needs to be reformed to force charter school operators, like ASPIRA, to open up about its practices and be subject to the state's Open Records Law.

FOX 29 Investigates has made an open records request for any settlements ASPIRA has made similar to what it did with Nunez.

ASPIRA is fighting that, claiming "it is not a public agency."

But there is something DePasquale can do.

Cole: "Do you think you need to get to them now in terms of your audit abilities?"
DePasQuale: "My team met about this issue earlier this week. And we are going to be bumping up some of their schools into early part of next year to make sure that we have a thorough audit of some of these entities."
Cole: "Based on what you've seen?
DePasquale: "Yes, correct."
Cole: "You want to look at them harder now based on what you've seen in that report?"
DePasquale: "Absolutely."

In a statement, ASPIRA tells FOX 29 it is regrettable the auditor general would reach conclusions based on television news reports. It says it has consistently received clean audits and will cooperate with the auditor general.

As for the "dear colleagues letter," ASPIRA says it accurately describes what it believes are "politically motivated attacks against ASPIRA and Calderon."

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