When on May 10, 2022, the former Deputy Secretary of Education, Héctor Joaquín Sánchez Álvarez, summoned four Department of Education employees who were members of the jury for the “2022 Teacher and Principal of the Year Award,” to tell them who they should favor, the annoyance within the agency did not stay in that conference room.

The complaints reached the then Secretary of Education, Eliezer Ramos Parés, who immediately referred them to the DE’s Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs for investigation. That same day, the then Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs, Nolan Portalatín Cepeda, began taking the sworn statements of the 12 people who witnessed Sánchez Álvarez’s actions, a political ally of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and former electoral commissioner of the New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish).

According to the report by an external company that intervened to investigate at the request of La Fortaleza, the office of the Governor, and the sworn statements to which this media outlet had access, the jury was on their lunch break, in the midst of its deliberation, when one of its members — the DE’s director of Public Policy, Félix Pérez Rivera — got a call from a special assistant who asked them to go up to the Secretary’s Office, on the second floor of the DE’s headquarters in Hato Rey. He was told that only the four jurors who were DE employees at the central level should attend, according to his affidavit. When they arrived at the conference room, they found the seven regional superintendents there, together with Sánchez Álvarez.

“He told us that he did not know how the jury selection process was done … that he was not consulted,” said teacher Kenny Bermúdez Reyes, a member of the jury and then a special assistant at the DE’s Department of Academic and Programmatic Affairs. “He said we should be very careful in selecting the teacher of the year and that we should pay close attention to two of the participants… He said these two teachers shared the same ideals as us,” added Bermúdez Reyes, in the sworn statement notarized by Portalatín Cepeda.

The executive director of Teaching at the DE, Jorge Acosta Irizarry — also a member of the jury — said Sánchez Álvarez asked them “to be careful when selecting the candidate so that there would not be a problem on the day of the award ceremony.” He added that he asked them to “pay special attention to two candidates in particular since they were recommended and aligned with the Governor.”

“He insisted three times that we pay special attention to the two mentioned candidates,” Acosta Irizarry said.

The former Deputy Secretary of Education, Héctor Joaquín Sánchez Álvarez, with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, right.
Photo taken from Facebook

This media outlet contacted and sent a series of questions to Sánchez Álvarez, who limited himself to answering with the following authorized statement: “Your premises are incorrect, and I’m concerned that your sources are misleading you. I recommend that in your ethical and due diligence duty, even more so since I’m a private citizen now, investigate directly with the records of the previously mentioned public entities, the conclusions on any matter before their consideration.”

According to the sworn statements of the four members of the jury, Sánchez Álvarez urged them to favor teachers Bryan Rivera Medina and Odalys González González. The jury determined, however, to ignore the demands of the deputy secretary and move ahead with the evaluation process as it had been established.

The CPI contacted the four members of the jury by telephone, but all refused to grant an interview or make statements about this event.

González González is a Social Studies teacher at the Mayagüez Regional Educational Office (ORE, in Spanish), and is publicly projected as a candidate for the House of Representatives’ District 18 (Aguada, Rincón, Añasco and Moca) for the PNP. When this media outlet approached her, she said she had not personally met Sánchez Álvarez on that date. “If I was recommended as a finalist, I know it’s because of the work I’ve done in a women’s leadership organization at my school called ‘Crown Yourself Princess,’” she responded.

Rivera Medina is a Special Education teacher in Naranjito. He told this outlet that when he read the news about the alleged political discrimination at the teacher awards, he was discouraged. “I distance myself a lot from that [partisan politics] because, if I get involved, it’s often thought that what I’ve gotten through my work or for my students, is because of that… I have had approaches from politicians who want me to work in their campaign, but I have told them no. I don’t particularly like politics,” he assured.

During the “The School Community Shines” event, in which both participated, they would award the winners $5,000; while the first and second runners-up would win $3,000 and $2,000, respectively. The agency requested $76,400 of federal funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund to grant the award. An internal committee of each ORE made the first evaluation of the self-nominated teachers and directors and recommended two finalists per region. Those finalists went on to be interviewed by a jury at the central level.

In his sworn statement, the superintendent of the ORE of Mayagüez, Ricardo Pitre Feliciano, wrote that he wanted to state, “that I don’t know the people or teachers selected and that I didn’t interfere in the process in any way.”

Another member of the jury — the DE’s Operations Manager, Amarilis Caro Caro — recalled that, during the meeting, Sánchez Álvarez told them that these two teachers “were the ones we had to consider for teacher of the year, since he did not want to give the prize to anyone who was not aligned with the Governor. She emphasized that we were the majority in the jury.”

Portalatín Cepeda notarized 13 sworn statements about what happened at the jury meeting. That same month, two other people filed other complaints against Sánchez Álvarez for other situations. On June 30, 2022, Education’s Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs referred the file with 15 affidavits and documentary evidence to the Department of Justice, as well as to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General and other audit entities in Puerto Rico. This media outlet learned, from three sources, that federal authorities have called for an interview and requested information related to these incidents and other alleged irregularities in the DE’s hiring practices.

One month after the referral, La Fortaleza issued instructions to fire Portalatín Cepeda, who had led the investigation. They also ordered the dismissal of the DE’s Deputy Secretary of Human Resources, Frances Pellet Román. Those were the first of several changes in the agency’s senior management, most of which took place this summer and included the Secretary himself, as well as the Deputy Secretary for Administration and the Deputy Secretary for Federal Affairs.

New Boss at the Agency

Last July, Pierluisi appointed the then-director of the ORE of Bayamón, Yanira Raíces Vega, to succeed Ramos Parés, whom the Governor asked to resign. Raíces Vega was one of the officials who testified under oath in the investigation into the accusations against Sánchez Álvarez, but she never alluded to the controversy over favoritism or possible partisan political discrimination.

Yanira Raíces Vega, appointed Secretary of the Department of Education.
Photo taken from the Department of Education’s official Twitter page

“The data contained in the submitted affidavit are the facts of which I have personal knowledge. No information related to the meeting was omitted,” Raíces Vega responded in written statements to this news outlet.

In their interviews with Justice, “several [regional superintendents] did not recall that it had been commented at the meeting that the winner had to belong to the PNP or that they had to be aligned with the Governor’s public policy and others did not hear all the details or did not hear the PNP mentioned directly as part of the discussion, but in general, they declared that they perceived that the defendant referred to the fact that the people to be elected were in line with the Governor’s public policy,” according to the resolution of the Panel on the Special Independent Prosecutor (PFEI, in Spanish)  which has the final jurisdiction over the highest ranking officials in the Executive Branch.

Supported by these statements, on January 30, 2023, Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli announced that he was recommending to the PFEI that it not assign a prosecutor to thoroughly investigate the allegations against Sánchez Álvarez, since he had not found criminal evidence. The PFEI, in turn, limited its evaluation to the preliminary investigation submitted by Justice, whose Public Integrity Division interviewed and took a sworn statement from Portalatín Cepeda, the members of the Jury who participated in the selection of the “Teacher of the Year” 2021 -2022, “several special assistants and other officials,” DE regional superintendents, and the defendant.

The Justice report signed by Emanuelli classified it as improper “but not a crime” to summon the four members of the jury to a meeting with the superintendents, on the day of the events. “It’s analyzed in the report that affinity does not translate into militancy to a political party but to governance,” stated the PFEI chaired by Nydia Cotto Vives, in the resolution issued on April 4. The following day, the PFEI notified its decision to file the case against Sánchez Alvarez.

This media outlet had access to the 15 sworn statements taken by the DE’s legal office. The CPI also spoke with seven other employees of that agency who did not testify as part of the process but confirmed the intervention that Sánchez Álvarez exercised in routine agency procedures. Most expressed fear for the level of impunity that Sánchez Álvarez enjoys, the protection he has, and the possibility of facing reprisals, for which they spoke on condition of anonymity.

“They held hostage the Department of Education,” an interviewee said.

The affidavits and testimonies of other employees confirm how infiltrated partisan politics is in the DE’s administrative decisions, particularly through the influence of the agency’s former Associate Deputy Secretary.

The Whereabouts of the Governor’s Ally

Sánchez Álvarez left the position as the DE’s Associate Deputy Secretary in May 2022, amid these allegations against him. In a statement to the firm Robles & Associates, which interviewed him on the matter, the employee alleged that he requested vacation that following week due to the “toxic environment” at work.

Robles & Associates evaluated the incidents related to the selection of the 2022 Teacher of the Year, “from a human resources management perspective,” said partner Carlos Colón in his letter dated July 3, 2022. This evaluation began a week after the DE began the internal investigation against Sánchez Álvarez. Governor´s Chief of Staff Noelia García Bardales asked Ramos Parés to delegate the investigation to an “external entity.” She justified the intervention by invoking an interest in “objectivity.” Two sources to which this media outlet gives credibility confirmed, separately, that La Fortaleza directly chose the DE contractor to which this evaluation should be delegated.

The former Secretary of Education, Eliezer Ramos Parés, and Chief of Staff Noelia García Bardales.
Photo taken from Facebook

“The assumption that I asked the Department of Education for a particular company or referred a contractor is not correct. The former Secretary was asked that, due to the obvious conflict between management staff at the same level, it was recommended that an external entity analyze the situation. That company was already contracted by the Department of Education itself and that is easily validated in the Comptroller’s records,” García Bardales responded, in written statements.

This company, owned by CPA Diego Robles Cordero, has received more than $24 million in contracts with 14 agencies or public corporations under the Pierluisi Administration. Its owner is a PNP donor and serves as a Deputy Electoral Commissioner in the Office of the Electoral Comptroller’s Donations and Expenses Oversight Board, nominated by the party.

Robles Cordero replied, by phone call, that he did not intervene in that evaluation, since that work was carried out by his partner.

According to the Robles & Associates report, Sánchez Álvarez defended himself by saying that the regional directors were the ones who suggested the two candidates for the award. He denied that he mentioned that the candidate had to be a PNP member. Rather, he “made clear that it should be someone sympathetic to the Governor’s public policy.” Likewise, he blamed special assistant Wenddy Colón Martínez, for saying that the candidate should be a PNP member. No other witness agreed with that version.

Sánchez Álvarez did not want to answer questions about what it meant to be aligned “with the Governor’s public policy.” In the phone call, he limited himself to alleging the personal motivations of those who want to harm his political career now that he is running for the Senate.

In the summer of 2022, he submitted his resignation from the position of trust he had in the DE and was appointed as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP, in Spanish), where he worked for six months.

Engineer Luis González Rosario, then deputy secretary of the DTOP, went on to occupy the position of Deputy Secretary in the DE, where he remains and has been delegated post-disaster recovery and school repair duties. Two CPI sources said La Fortaleza imposed González Rosario’s move from the DTOP to the DE; Ramos Parés had another candidate he trusted for the position who did not get the endorsement of the team close to the Governor.

Luis González Rosario, who was deputy secretary of the DTOP, currently holds the position of deputy secretary in the DE.
Photo taken from Facebook

The DE replied that Sánchez Álvarez no longer works at the DE where he had a career position as a teacher of gardening and landscape design. Currently, he has a management consulting contract with the Land Authority through the firm Advisors Consulting, LLC, created on April 11, 2023, according to contract and corporation records. A month after the company was created, Sánchez Álvarez signed his first contract, for which he billed for “coordinating agricultural cooperative projects in San Lorenzo and Río Grande,” “providing follow-up to organize cocoa and avocado farmers” and “providing follow-up to establish a work plan to start the planting of palm trees in Vieques,” according to the invoices to which this media outlet had access.

In July the contract was renewed for the maximum amount of $60,000 for a one-year period. His rate is $83.34 an hour.

Sánchez Álvarez will run for the PNP for the position of Senator for District 8, which includes municipalities in the metropolitan area and the island’s northeast coast, from Trujillo Alto to Ceiba and the island’s municipalities of Vieques and Culebra off the East coast. His campaign committee has not reported income or expenses related to promoting his candidacy, according to the report filed with the Office of the Electoral Comptroller.

Even though Sánchez Álvarez has already made his life outside the DE, the majority of those interviewed by this media outlet said he was influential in the recent changes in the agency’s executive positions. Everyone in positions of trust at the central level who gave sworn statements against Sánchez Álvarez were removed from their positions in Education.

“I have no doubt: he’s running the Department from the outside,” said another interviewee.

Broad Control Since the Start of the Administration’s Tenure

It is worth reviewing how the four-year period under the Pierluisi administration began: two days after he was sworn in as Governor, his Electoral Commissioner walked into the DE headquarters to announce that he would be the Associate Deputy Secretary. Sánchez Álvarez remained in the position longer than the interim secretary who appointed him: Elba Aponte Santos, former president of the Teachers’ Association, who was not confirmed by the Senate to occupy the position permanently. Later, Pierluisi named Magaly Rivera Rivera, former director of the Bayamón Regional Educational Office, who also did not get the votes.

When Pierluisi designated Ramos Parés as a consensus candidate, most of the appointments to key positions at the central level had already been made. “He [Ramos Parés] was never able to appoint staff. Except for the secretary of Legal [Affairs], the deputy secretary of Human Resources, his confidential secretary, and a lawyer…the rest, practically, was imposed,” said a person with knowledge. The CPI validated the information with another independent source.

An attempt was made to locate Ramos Parés in several ways, but the former secretary did not want to make any statements.

Ramos Parés’s appointments that were not endorsed by Sánchez Álvarez were postponed for months or rejected by the Office of Management and Budget (OGP, in Spanish), two DE internal sources concurred. The OGP’s Chief of Staff, Emma Marrero Negrón, told this news outlet that that office’s duty — which is attached to La Fortaleza — is limited to verifying that there is a budget to approve the contract. “We don’t see anything else. We don’t investigate the merits of the hiring,” she said.

Ramos Parés had little direct communication with the Governor, while Sánchez Álvarez did have full access, according to the sources consulted.

Despite those snags, four interviewees believed that the DE’s top executives, under Ramos Parés’s leadership, were sometimes able to neutralize some of the “mandates” or requests by Sánchez Álvarez in terms of appointments, work plans, and contracts because they considered some of them crazy or illegal.

“He called many times to say: ‘Name this person,’” said an employee who listened to the conversations. If the appointments made sense [given the person’s training], they moved ahead with the recommendation; but, many other times, they were ignored, he said.

“It’s not the first time that Héctor J. Sánchez tries to pressure for plans to be signed or for people to be appointed to evaluate proposals for competitive processes that he decides,” according to the affidavit from the Deputy Secretary for Academic and Program Affairs, Guillermo López Díaz, who filed a complaint about another incident.

A Meeting Hard to Ignore

Of the 15 sworn statements before the DE, this media outlet confirmed that 10 people testified under oath that Sánchez Álvarez arbitrarily intervened in personnel appointments, awards, and allocations of public funds in the agency. Most of these 10 people said they felt uncomfortable, pressured, or threatened by the official.

These 10 witnesses include the four members of the jury summoned to the meeting, as well as two special assistants who listened to the former deputy secretary’s statements on the matter; the coordinator of the award ceremony whom Sánchez Álvarez called to find out the names of the finalists; and one of the seven regional superintendents, who were present. It also includes two other employees who filed complaints against Sánchez Álvarez for matters other than the selection of the Teacher and Principal of the Year Award.

As for this event, eight witnesses agreed that Sánchez Álvarez made demands regarding the criteria that those who got the award had to comply with. Four of them assured that the Associate Deputy Secretary investigated and emphasized the political affiliations of the nominated teachers and principals.

The former special assistant of the Deputy Secretary for Academic Affairs, Milton Rosas Gaud, testified that — when he got to where Sánchez Álvarez was, at 4 p.m. — “it was said that the lists of teachers and directors had been marked [identifying who was from which party] and that there were more Popular Democratic Party [PDP, in Spanish] members than PNP followers.” He did not specify, in his sworn statement, who said that.

Rosas Gaud said he was seeking the deputy secretary’s signature to cut the winners’ checks when he found Sánchez Álvarez talking to several regional directors, who rebuked him about the selection process. “A female regional superintendent said the Governor was there [referring to La Fortaleza] because you and I worked for that. In addition, the deputy secretary said, if it wasn’t because the Governor was going to participate in the activity [of the Teacher and Director of the Year Award], I would let you get screwed and do nothing,” Rosas Gaud said in his affidavit.

Of the seven regional superintendents, only Jorge Santiago Ramos (San Juan) provided details. The others were silent.

Superintendents Ricardo Pitre Feliciano (Mayagüez) and Edwin Acevedo Medina (Arecibo) omitted any reference to the Governor in their sworn statement. Pitre Feliciano recalled that, at the meeting, they were told that the winners “should be people who aren’t conflictive and who can be in tune with the established public policy.” Meanwhile, Acevedo Medina limited himself to saying that “Mr. Héctor Joaquín (Deputy Secretary) stressed that the evaluation process should be rigorous and in line with the established public policy.”

The criteria for the selection of the jury, as well as for the nomination and evaluation of the candidates, were established through a DE memorandum, signed by its then Secretary Ramos Parés. There is no law or executive order from Governor Pierluisi regarding what constitutes being an excellent teacher or principal, as this matter is delegated to the public education agency. Regarding this, the government platform only says — in “Excellent education: Key to a good quality of life” section — that the government will grant salary increases and additional fringe benefits to teachers, “based on their performance.”

Even though Justice believed that “affinity does not translate into militancy to a political party but to governance,” prosecutor Tamara del C. Martínez Rosado heard the testimonies of at least four people who assured that there was talk or request that the winners be members of the administrative party.

The PFEI’s resolution attributed to Acosta Irizarry having expressed, in his statement, that “the subliminal message” was that he should be a “militant” person for the PNP. The three other members of the jury also perceived this.

In addition, special assistant Colón Martínez had declared before the DE that “Mr. Sánchez mentioned each of the candidates for ORE and spoke to the jury about some traits, including political affiliations.”

Raíces Vega, the Bayamón regional superintendent at the time and the Governor’s current Secretary of Education nominee, participated in the meeting that was investigated but limited herself to saying that doubts came up about the low participation rate of candidates and whether previous year awardees could participate again. She said, for that reason, some members of the jury were asked to take part in the meeting “to present these concerns and for the members to clear them up.”

Carol Rivera Ruiz, the director of the Caguas ORE, who evaded the controversy, did the same thing.

Both the superintendent of Humacao, Evelyn del Moral Rosario, and Roberto Rodríguez Rosario of Ponce, refused to make the sworn statement before the DE’s Complaints Investigation Unit.

Del Moral Rosario confirmed to this media outlet that she refused to testify about this meeting. “For me to issue a sworn statement, there must be a process in which I’m oriented as to why they’re asking me for a statement. At the Legal Affairs Department, they told me that it was voluntary, so I declined… I was oriented by my lawyer that I wasn’t under any obligation to do so,” she said. Meanwhile, Rodríguez Rosario said he was not authorized to speak to the press and referred questions to the DE Communications Office.

Secretary Ramos Parés reiterated, in the interview with Robles & Associates, that he brought together all the regional directors that same week — on Friday, May 14, 2022 — and they all individually confirmed the complaints about Sánchez Alvarez’s allegedly unethical behavior. Ramos Parés was not called in for an interview with the Justice Department to provide these details, said a source close to the investigation. The press spokeswoman for the Department of Justice told this news outlet that Emanuelli would not be available for an interview on this issue. As of press time, they had also not responded to questions sent to them by email.

Two More Complaints 

On May 10, 2022, the Deputy Secretary for Academic and Program Affairs, Guillermo López Díaz, filed a second complaint with the DE against Sánchez Álvarez, after getting a call that he perceived as threatening. López Díaz testified that the then Associate Deputy Secretary demanded that he hastily approve academic plans that determined the use of $100 million in federal funds, otherwise he would remove him from an official trip to Hawaii. A DE employee told this media outlet that the trip had been scheduled together with U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona’s team.

Ten days later, the Human Resources specialist at the ORE in Bayamón, Marily Zayas Torres, filed a third complaint with the DE against Sánchez Álvarez and her immediate supervisor, Raíces Vega, for allegedly retaliating against her. The former Associate Deputy Secretary called her to find out why the administrative assistant appointments at Orocovis had not been approved, she recounted in her affidavit. When she explained that she had not approved those who did not meet the basic requirements, he allegedly replied that “she could not get in the way,” the complaint reads. Four days later, Raíces Vega removed her from the position of interim Director of Human Resources that she held since 2017.

Raíces Vega told this media outlet that “the determinations of appointments in the Region were based on the search for efficiency in the areas, under no circumstances did they respond to retaliation.” She alleged that Zayas Torres was offered two location alternatives for which she had more knowledge and skills.

Prosecutor Martínez Rosado made a request for documents and found that Laura D. Santiago’s application for the position of administrative assistant — which was in controversy — showed a sticky note saying that she had been recommended by the mayor of Orocovis, Jesús Colón Berlingeri, according to the PFEI’s resolution. Santiago only had a high school diploma, so she did not meet the minimum associate degree requirement to be an administrative assistant at a school in Orocovis.

Colón Berlingeri said he did not remember that name, but he assured: “Anyone who asks me for my support [for a job], I endorse them.” He acknowledged, at the same time, that the Bayamón ORE’s staff often seek his opinion on who can be recruited or appointed for vacancies in the Orocovis schools. Asked if he ever demanded that someone who did not qualify be named, he replied: “I’m careful about that. Although I endorse or recommend them, the interviewer’s analysis must prevail.”

The mayor of Orocovis, Jesús Colón Berlingeri, is in the center.
Photo taken from Facebook

Raíces Vega said, on the contrary, that “the positions granted in the region, I reiterate, were based on the people’s merits, knowledge, experience and training, not on the recommendations of mayors or legislators.”

La Fortaleza’s Intervention

In June 2022, Robles & Associates delivered the “Report on Incidents Related to the 2022 Teacher and Principal Evaluation.” The firm concluded that Portalatín Cepeda, assistant secretary of the DE’s Legal Affairs and Public Policy, should have restrained himself from the investigative process. They based their recommendation on the allegations made by Sánchez Álvarez himself, interviewed by the firm, that the lawyer “filed a complaint against him” for another case, which the Department of Justice dismissed.

About a month after issuing this report and the referral from the DE to Justice, Ramos Parés began to receive instructions from La Fortaleza to remove the DE’s Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs, four sources confirmed to this media outlet. Seeing no action, García Bardales proceeded to also request that the Assistant Secretary of Human Resources, Frances Pelet Román, be removed. The instructions were clear: the Secretary had to remove both of them from the agency’s hierarchy or he himself had to resign, said someone who witnessed first-hand the stress that this caused Ramos Parés. Faced with these pressures, on November 14, 2022, Portalatín Cepeda and Pelet Román resigned, although the latter was assigned to the Secretary’s office as his Special Assistant, four sources told this news outlet.

García Bardales justified, in writing, having requested the resignation of both trusted employees by alleging that “they failed in their ministerial duties to correctly apply the Department’s personnel regulations.”

The government had previously resorted to Robles & Associates, as well as BDO Puerto Rico, to commission the investigation of another public scandal, which occurred under the Ricardo Rosselló administration. In 2018, they had been delegated the “audit” related to the possible disappearance or theft of containers that were full of supplies for those affected by Hurricane María, which turned up at the State Elections Commission.

With Pelet Román’s exit, the then special assistant of the Administration Area, Marlene Rosa Medina, went on to occupy, on an interim basis, the Assistant Secretary of Human Resources post. Multiple people interviewed by this media outlet assured that Rosa Medina was brought to the agency by Sánchez Álvarez himself who introduced her as his best friend.

Ultimatum for the Secretary

On June 30 of this year, García Bardales told Ramos Parés that he had to resign, otherwise, the Governor would fire him, as he admitted in an interview.

The next day, a Saturday, Pierluisi appointed Ángel Toledo López as secretary of the DE. Toledo López held the position of Deputy Secretary for Academic and Program Affairs since his predecessor’s resignation, López Díaz.

Among his first moves as secretary of the DE, was removing Pérez Rivera, one of the testifiers against Sánchez Álvarez, from the position of Interim Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs and Public Policy. Pérez Rivera’s permanent appointment to the position never received the OGP’s endorsement within the six-month period after it was requested, another source reported. In his place, Toledo López appointed attorney Juan Orlando Rodríguez Rivera, who headed the DE’s Civil Rights Office and was previously under the supervision of Sánchez Álvarez in the Assistant Secretary Division for Occupational and Technical Education, in 2017.

In the nine days as designated secretary of the DE, Ángel Toledo López removed several officials who were loyal to his predecessor.
Photo taken from Facebook

A few days before the Governor had to withdraw Toledo López’s appointment because he did not have the votes to be confirmed in the Senate, the appointee removed four special assistants who were loyal to Ramos Parés: Colón Martínez, Pelet Román, Sujey Cruz Laureano, and Elie Omar Rios Sojo. Days later, on July 10, the Governor appointed Raíces Vega, who has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Toledo López responded that “having so much need in other areas such as Special Education, it was not imperative for me [to keep them as assistants in the Office of the Secretary]”, and sent them to the OREs of Mayagüez, San Juan, and Caguas to fill vacancies related to the Special Education Program.

The Consequences of Politicization

The changes in the DE’s senior management occurred during the summer of 2023, when the agency is supposed to process recruitment to fill vacant teacher positions, as well as purchase materials and prepare schools for the start of the school year.

“If we want an operational and functional Department of Education that responds to the needs of children, youth, fathers and mothers, teachers and non-teachers, in short, the entire school community, it must be depoliticized,” said Mercedes Martínez Padilla, president of the of Puerto Rico Teachers Federation.

When asked how politicization affects the school community, Liza Fournier Córdova, president of the National Union of Educators and Education Workers (ÚNETE, in Spanish), said: “The Department of Education is the agency that receives the largest amount of funds. You can name whoever you want. It’s where they have their best friends hired as assistants. You bring ‘one of these companies to get contracts… They make a profit… Education is a profitable business on this island.”

William Moreno Rosario, treasurer of EDUCAMOS, also criticized the DE’s high level of politicization, to the extent that whoever holds the position of Secretary must appear to “pay homage” to the Governor, to remain in office. “You cannot run the government as a (political) party. Ultimately, the ones who suffer all this are the teachers and students. Sadly, it has an impact on the students,” he said.