Copyright © 2021, Valencia County News-Bulletin

LOS LUNAS — After a public feud with the now-permanently suspended Los Lunas Board of Education, former superintendent Dana Sanders settled her lawsuit with Los Lunas Schools in mid-September for $600,000 in lost wages and other damages.

The district paid Sanders $105,226 — $200,000 before taxes — for back wages since she did not complete the full term of her contract before being discharged from employment in June 2020. Months prior, the board placed her on administrative leave, and she remained on the district payroll until she announced her retirement last August.

a portrait of Dana Sanders Former Los Lunas Schools Superintendent

Dana Sanders
Former Los Lunas Schools Superintendent

The settlement also included a $400,000 payout to Sanders, via her attorney at Western Agriculture, Business and Resource Advocates, “designated as compensation for emotional distress, harm to reputation and attorney’s fees and costs.”

The lawsuit states the $400,000 was to be paid in conjunction by Los Lunas Schools and the New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority, however, the school district said the payment was made by the insurance company.

“This Release of Liability and Settlement Agreement (“Release”) does not constitute an admission by any party of the merit or the lack of merit of any claims or defenses of the parties, nor does it constitute an admission of liability by any of the Releasees,” the settlement reads.

In November 2020, Sanders filed the lawsuit against the Los Lunas Board of Education, with former board members Bryan Smith, Eloy Giron and Steven Otero mentioned in the suit directly in their capacities as board president, board vice president and board secretary, respectively.

The initial complaint alleged Smith, Giron and Otero engaged in improper employment practices and retaliation against Sanders for her refusal to use her position to fulfill certain member’s “personal desires and/or vendettas” against district employees.

“I am just trying to make sure the community is apprised of the concerns regarding actions of the board, and hold them accountable for their retaliation against me,” Sanders said in a statement to the News-Bulletin last November regarding the lawsuit.

Sanders said she could not legally comment to the press about the settlement, which was signed on Sept. 21, however her attorney, Blair Dunn, said she is “happy to move on and to continue on with her life.”

About six months after Sanders filed the civil lawsuit, the entirety of the Los Lunas Board of Education, including Smith, Giron and Otero along with Frank Otero and David Vickers, were permanently suspended from their positions in May 2021.

According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, the board was suspended due to “credible evidence that certain board members have persistently violated procurement and public access laws, the state Public School Code, and professional ethical standards.”

The complaints made in Sanders’ civil suit were similar in nature to the findings of fact determined by NMPED, which led to the Los Lunas Board of Education’s permanent suspension.

After a two-day hearing earlier this year, PED decided to make their suspension of the board permanent, resulting in the legal representation for Bryan Smith and Eloy Giron to submit an intent to appeal the decision.

Vickers was reelected to the District 3 seat on the board during November’s election, and will resume his position in January.

Steven Otero also made a reelection bid for his seat, but proved to be unsuccessful against Bruce Bennett, the current appointee to the Los Lunas Schools Governing Committee for District 5.

“I am glad that both Ms. Sanders and Los Lunas Schools can move on to the next chapter,” Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero told the News-Bulletin. “Los Lunas Schools is ready for what is to come.”

Dana Sanders Lawsuit Settlement

Dana Sanders Lawsuit Settlement

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.