LOS LUNAS – Two previously suspended Los Lunas Board of Education members have been reinstated to their elected seats after a procedural error.
First Judicial District Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne said in her ruling last month that the state statute the New Mexico Public Education Department used to indefinitely – and later permanently – suspend the entire Los Lunas Board of Education was not contrary to the New Mexico Constitution.
The judge also concluded PED acted both within its scope of authority and did not act “fraudulently, arbitrarily, or capriciously.”
However, since the secretary of education failed to consult with the state Public Education Commission and the “decision of the Public Education Department is not supported by substantial evidence as to appellants Eloy Giron and Bryan Smith,” both Smith and Giron were reinstated to the Los Lunas Board of Education.
“We plan to follow the judge’s order. Any decisions about next steps are currently under consideration,” state Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in a statement.
The Public Education Commission is the authorization and oversight board for New Mexico charter schools.
Smith and Giron praised the ruling.
“It’s been a rough two years, and I guess the roughest part has been knowing that I didn’t do anything, yet the accusations kept coming,” Smith told the News-Bulletin. “The thing that gets me the most is that they are the same accusations just over and over and over. I am very, very, very much relieved of the findings the judge found. She has actually restored my faith that the facts – and only the facts – are and should be relevant.”
As he finishes the remainder of his term, Smith said he plans to increase communication between individuals within the district so they can move toward their goal of serving and teaching the children of Los Lunas.
For his part, Giron said he isn’t holding any grudges.
“I’m going forward,” he told the News-Bulletin. “The community needs some stability. Teachers, the parents, the staff, the community, the taxpayers, they need to move forward – that’s what they want us to do.”
PED’s initial reasoning for the suspension cited “credible evidence that certain board members have persistently violated procurement and public access laws, the state Public School Code, and professional ethical standards.”
Appointed board members Sonya C’Moya, District 2, and Ragon Espinoza, District 4, have been informed of Giron and Smith’s reinstatement, and will not be returning to the Los Lunas Board of Education.
“I’m honored to have been selected as a board appointee by PED,” said C’Moya, who was serving as board president since January. “Basically, I truly appreciate serving again on the board of education. I also appreciate the support of the entire staff of Los Lunas Schools with their strength and tenacity going through everything – COVID and everything.”
Of the other suspended board members, David Vickers, District 3, was reelected to his seat in November 2021, and started a new four-year term in January.
Former member Steven Otero, District 5, also ran for his board seat in November, but lost to Los Lunas Schools Governing Council appointee Bruce Bennett.
Otero is also facing two misdemeanor counts of criminal violation of ethical principles of public service in connection with his time on the Los Lunas Board of Education. He has a pretrial conference scheduled for June 23, at the 13th Judicial District Court.
Neither Otero, Vickers nor Frank Otero, the suspended board member from District 1, appealed the department’s decision and therefore were not reinstated along with Giron and Smith.
Both Smith and Giron took their seats for the regular board of education meeting on May 24, and a special meeting to reorganize the board held earlier in the evening.
Tina Garcia, the only appointee left on the board, was unanimously voted president. Vickers was elected vice president on a 3-2 vote, with Giron and Smith voting against, and Garcia, Bennett and Vickers voting yes.
Neither Smith nor Giron were assigned to the finance or audit committees.
“I came here fully expecting to be a board member, and you made the comment earlier that we are going to work together as a board,” Smith said to Garcia following her committee assignments. “Based on your assignments to these two committees, it seems to me like we’re well on our way. You have excluded two board members intentionally. So, I hope there is some level of accountability with three board members overseeing two committees.”
NMPED approves rule on suspending school district boards
Conditions for such a move include fraud and other serious issues…