LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – The former Los Lunas Schools superintendent said she exposed possible corruption by school board members months before they were suspended. Her lawsuit claims the board pushed her out of her job for blowing the whistle.
“There’s been some really pretty severe corruption issues going down in Los Lunas Public Schools,” Attorney Blair Dunn explained.
It was on Wednesday that the New Mexico Public Education Department suspended the five-member district board amid allegations of attempted bribery, extortion, and nepotism.
“We have evidence of a fairly long list of concerns that range from procurement to violations of the open meetings act, violations of the public school code and other critical parts of law,” PED Secretary Dr. Ryan Stewart explained.
Dunn said former superintendent Dana Sanders blew the whistle about many of those allegations last spring. “She’s the party that went to the State Police, to the [Attorney General’s] office and PED and said, ‘this is really not right,'” he explained.
He said that led the board to push Sanders out the door to retire in August. “She was constructively terminated, which means they basically forced her out,” he said.
Sanders filed a lawsuit in November against the board, claiming retaliation and wrongful termination. She alleges she was harassed because she wouldn’t go along with “unlawful acts” requested by current board president Eloy Giron and members Bryan Smith and Steven Otero.
The state auditor confirms his office is looking into the claims and issued a letter of concern to the district in early March. It states one board member is accused of revealing confidential information with a community vendor; plus, there are more allegations that continue to be investigated by the Attorney General’s office and New Mexico State Police.
“There’s an allegation that’s pending that they had falsified financial information in order to make it appear that she was engaged in financial misconduct,” Dunn added.
Dunn said the PED stepping in to suspend the entire board Wednesday was an important first step in helping get the district on track to put the focus back on students. “They’re headed back to a functioning system rather than one that’s in complete disarray as it is right now,” he said.
It’s an effort the new Superintendent Dr. Arsenio Romero is working on while reporting directly to the PED during the board’s suspension. “Every student will continue to have the best opportunity for a great learning experience,” Dr. Romero said.
The AG’s office has not said if criminal charges could be coming, but in an emailed statement says: “We are aware of the issue and are working with PED to ensure the safety and well being of the students in the Los Lunas School District.”