Andrew Ujifusa writes in Education Week about a massive number of leaked emails from government officials in Puerto Rico that have caused an uproar on the Island. The emails touch on many issues, and education is one of them. In the wake of the data dump, many people are calling no the governor of Puerto Rico to resign.

 

Puerto Rico’s political leadership is unraveling at high speed, pushed along by an ex-education secretary’s arrest last week and the leak of private messages between Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his top officials that include derogatory comments about the teachers’ union president. 

Julia Keleher, who was appointed by Rosselló as secretary in late 2016 and served as the island’s schools chief until April, was arrested last Wednesday on fraud charges related to how she handled millions of dollars in government contracts. Her arrest reignited ongoing debates about her and the governor’s successful push to expand educational choice, close hundreds of schools, and reform the island’s education bureaucracy, as well as her status as a non-Puerto Rican. 

Then on Saturday, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico published hundreds of pages of private messages—mostly in Spanish—between Rosselló and some of his top advisers. The leaked messages have caused a political firestorm on the island, leading to several resignations and growing calls for the governor to step down. 

Among the messages’ targets was the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the island’s teachers’ union, and its president, Aida Díaz. In a Dec. 19, 2018 exchange, the then-chief financial officer of Puerto Rico, Christian Sobrino, responded to a statement from AMPR about union negotiations by saying in English, “I DONT [sic] NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS!” 

If that epithet sounds familiar, you might be thinking of former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who once called the National Education Association a “terrorist organization.”

Four days earlier, in response to other comments from Díaz in support of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Sobrino said he was “salivating” at the idea of shooting a person or people. However, it’s not entirely clear from Sobrino’s remark about shooting if he meant Cruz, Díaz, or both of them, or someone else. In the messages, Rosselló responded that this would be helpful to him. (Sobrino announced his resignation on Sunday after these and other messages were made public.) 

The governor also referred to former Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, a staunch proponent of charters and vouchers, as a “monster,” upon learning that he was charging the bankrupt island $250 an hour to be a “consultant.”

On a related matter, a story from the Associated Press says: 

Federal officials said Wednesday morning that former Education Secretary Julia Keleher; former Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration head Ángela Ávila-Marrero; businessmen Fernando Scherrer-Caillet and Alberto Velázquez-Piñol, and education contractors Glenda E. Ponce-Mendoza and Mayra Ponce-Mendoza, who are sisters, were arrested by the FBI on 32 counts of fraud and related charges.

The alleged fraud involves $15.5 million in federal funding between 2017 and 2019. Thirteen million was spent by the Department of Education during Keleher’s time as secretary while $2.5 million was spent by the insurance administration when Ávila was the director.