LOS LUNAS — The special financial audit report conducted by REDW for and on Los Lunas Schools states the investigation indicated there was no evidence of wrongdoing found.
The 17-page document detailed the concerns REDW looked into, including HVAC units sold or given to private homeowners by district employees preforming side jobs.
“Based upon our review of invoices and work orders and inspection of the LLS warehouse and warehouse yard, we have not witnessed evidence of excessive purchases or surplus HVAC units or furnaces being purchased and/or idle in storage,” the report stated.
Concerns were also raised over purchases of a particular type of refrigerant used in the HVAC and split system units, specifically R22 Freon. R22 is becoming increasingly more expensive as this type of refrigerant is no longer manufactured, as it has been found to have severe negative environmental impacts, and now production and import of R22 refrigerant is illegal in the United States.
For these reasons, supply is decreasing and demand is increasing, causing the price of a 25 pound canister of R22 to cost in excess of $500.
Information requests have been made regarding the district’s organic fertilizer vendor. LLS has about 47 acres of turf fields, and in addition to providing fertilizer and services related to the turf fields, the organic fertilizer vendor’s products are also used for some of the district’s trees and shrubs.
Concerns were raised in regards to certain structures constructed by a vendor, specifically two pole barns located at Los Lunas High School and Valencia high schools.
“It is our understanding that maintenance department supervisors are actively working with the New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department — Construction Industries Division to address permitting and inspection issues related to these two structures at Los Lunas High School and Valencia High School,” the report stated. “When these structures were built, it was assumed that they were covered under the agriculture/farm and ranch designation and fell under the umbrella of LLS’s annual permit.
“We have been informed by LLS staff that these are the only two structures built at LLS without permits,” the report states.
The investigation, which in total cost taxpayers $45,000, began after the Los Lunas Board of Education approved a contract with the Albuquerque accounting firm on April 21. Board President Bryan Smith said he was in support of the decision.
“In our position, we’re responsible for the money in the district, and there were some questions that individuals wanted to have answered,” Smith said. “I’m here to support all of the board members and whatever they feel is important to them to understand and be cognizant of what’s going on in our district.”
Smith said while he was pleased with the results of the audit, there were also changes that needed to be made based off the recommendations from REDW.
“I know there were a couple minor things that needed to be taken care of, most of which have already been taken care of,” the board president said. “The report is what the report is, and it answered the questions we had and we were going to accept it however it came out.
“I’m relieved and want to move on and start working together. In these trying times, we have a lot of work to do to get back to where we need to be, and hopefully this will be a starting point to start working closer together.”
Former Superintendent Dana Sanders has filed complaints to the New Mexico Secretary of State in addition to the complaints filed with the New Mexico Attorney General, New Mexico Auditor’s Office and the state’s Ethics Commission. She claims board member Steven Otero used the audit as retribution against the maintenance department for not hiring him in October 2018.
Otero said his intent is not to target or retaliate against the maintenance department.
“That is totally inaccurate. I worked for the school district for 19 years. The bottom line is, facilities is my background so I will be more concentrated on them. I have a lot of knowledge and experience with that,” Otero said in response to the accusations in a letter Sanders sent out in May. “People shouldn’t say you’re targeting something when in fact you’re doing your job. Once the investigation is done and over with, it’ll show that my concerns and inquiries were all valid.”
Sanders said she believes Otero had an accomplice during the investigation.
“He also went as far as he could to taint the outcome of the investigation by having an accomplice extort two employees to lie about conditions in the maintenance department about their supervisors,” Sanders wrote in the complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State.
Sanders also wrote Smith and board member Eloy Giron shared her medical condition with the public during her medical leave, Giron had his wife present during a closed executive session on Zoom.
She also claims Smith and Otero used attorney Andrew M. Sanchez’s services without request for proposal, even saying he was providing services to them pro bono.
“They are abusing their position as board members to act outside of their authority and abusing their power as public officials for personal gain,” Sanders wrote in the complaint. “If once they have been warned, they continue, consideration of involvement of other entities to remove them from office is appropriate.”
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