A PDF with resumes and letters of interest from the four appointees are at the bottom of the article.
This story was updated on Monday, June 28, 2021, to add the correct date of the announcement and to include comments from appointed board members Ragon Espinoza and Tina Garcia. The story was edited on June 30, 2021, to reflect that appointed committee member Jessie Lewis is a landscape design professional, not an architect specializing in landscape design. This error was not fixed in the July 1 print edition.
LOS LUNAS — The New Mexico Public Education Department has appointed the remaining four seats for the Los Lunas Board of Education in a June 28 announcement, one month after the elected board was suspended.
In addition to the Sonya C’Moya, who was appointed on May 28 to served District 2, PED Sec. Ryan Stewart appointed Tina Garcia to the District 1 seat, Jessie Lewis to District 3, Ragon Espinoza in District 4 and Bruce Bennett in District 5.
The designates will serve as the Los Lunas Schools Governing Committee since they were appointed rather than elected to their positions.
“It’s great to have this many highly-qualified citizens who are willing to step in and do the important work of governing the Los Lunas Schools in this time of need,” wrote PED Sec. Ryan Stewart in a press release. “These outstanding individuals will ensure that the district has the responsible and representative governance it needs to keep the district focused on the needs of students.”
On May 26, PED suspended the entirety of the five elected Los Lunas Board of Education members — Eloy Giron, Frank Otero, Steven Otero, Bryan Smith and David Vickers. Stewart said the suspensions were 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.”
Per state statute, PED can only suspend the entirety of the board, even if “certain board members” were responsible for the alleged violations.
Overall, 23 different community members submitted resumes and letters of intent to the state in hopes of being appointed to one of the four open positions on the school board. PED said eight interviews were conducted.
Garcia, who is the PED designee for District 1, is a retired magistrate judge for Valencia County, and she retired after 12 years serving and another eight as the Valencia County clerk.
“This is my hometown,” Garcia said. “My parents graduated from this school district, myself, my husband, my kids, our grandkids are in school. I just have some time on my hands, a skill set that I thought might be helpful. I thought, this would be a good time for me to help out if there were something I can do to help.”
She added in her time on the committee, she hopes to become familiar with the position as she has while serving on many others boards within Valencia County and is looking forward to serving.
Lewis, who was appointed to the District 3 position, currently works for Molzen Corbin as a landscape design professional. Lewis has a daughter who attends school within the district.
“Simply put, you recognize at some point if you want things to work well and you want to be aware with what is going on with your children and their education, you have got to be a part of it,” Lewis told the News-Bulletin shortly after her appointment was announced.
Lewis said she is ready to learn about the system and to be an advocate for the children currently attending Los Lunas Schools.
Espinoza, who will represent District 4 — the most competitive of all the appointed seats with 10 applicants — has held a seat on the DWI Planning Council since 2013. He is also a member of the Valencia County Behavioral Task Force. He was a parole officer from 2008 to 2013, and he was awarded the Medal of Valor.
“Well, I have two young girls that are currently enrolled in Katherine Gallegos (Elementary) and I just wanted to get involved and keep the district moving forward, keep Los Lunas Schools moving forward in the great way that they are already,” Espinoza said. “I would like to learn, I would like to listen to the community, to the teachers, the faculty and just get a better idea of what the needs and concerns are so we can move forward.”
Bennett, who is the designee for District 5, recently retired from Los Lunas Schools after 24 years of working as a custodian, maintenance and food service warehouse worker. He has also worked as the vice president ESP of NEA Los Lunas, a local collective bargaining group from 1996 to 2020. He applied for the appointment after the suspension of the school board and saw the opportunity arise before him.
“I’m willing to learn about what is going on there and see what I can do and help the students out in Los Lunas,” Bennet said. “I’m very thankful for the appointment and I can’t wait to get working with the school board.”
Los Lunas Board of Education Districts 3 and 5 are both scheduled to appear on the ballot this November. Filing day for candidates to those seats, as well as all seats available during the 2021 general election, is Aug. 24.
It is currently unknown if any of the other appointed seats will appear on the November ballot in addition to Districts 3 and 5.
Suspended board member David Vickers also applied to be appointed back to his position representing District 3. However, Stewart said if Vickers were appointed to the seat, it would have delayed the public hearing process for the suspended board members as well as any ruling from a hearing officer.
“At this stage, we have no reason to believe anything other than the fact that David Vickers has been an upstanding public servant, and I hope he runs again in the future,” Stewart wrote in the June 28 press release.
A public hearing for the suspended board members, as requested by Smith and Giron, will be held by video conference at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 27. No weblink to the hearing has yet been released by PED.
In addition to Vickers’ most recent tenure on the board of education, he also served on the board from 1994 to 1999, prior to his stint serving District 7 in the N.M. House of Representatives.
“Despite the many issues that Mr. Vickers faced in dealing with the board majority and their lack of ethics, Dave never in any way compromised his values and commitment to the staff and students of the Los Lunas Schools,” wrote Walter Gibson, who served as the interim superintendent of the district from April 2020 to January 2021, in a letter of recommendation for Vickers.
Gibson worked directly with and was hired by the suspended board following the administrative leave of former superintendent Dana Sanders.
“Outvoted every step of the way, Mr. Vickers consistently challenged this three-member cadre of board members, both in his public comments and through his voting record,” Gibson wrote. “As a newly elected board member and someone who tries to see the best in others, it took Dave a while to understand that this board would not change its ways regardless of how he voted, and at this point in time, he objected in many ways to their actions and misdeeds.”
The next governing committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 20, and is available to stream on YouTube.
Los Lunas Board of Education appointees districts 1, 3, 4 and 5
Other applicants are listed below.
Roger “Craig” Schlotterback
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.