Sonya C’Moya, who currently makes up the entirety of the Los Lunas Board of Education, approved a one-time $1,200 pay increase for all contracted employees in the school district.

Moya told the News-Bulletin following last Tuesday’s special meeting that she was “very excited and proud” to have been able to approve the pay increases for employees who have worked so hard during the last year and will continue the hard work through the next school year.

The pay increase is meant to account for any extra duties the contracted employees may encounter during the upcoming 2021-22 school year, such as extra cleaning duties, extra pandemic-related training or a quick transition to online learning due to a COVID-19 outbreak in a school.

The bonuses will be paid through the federal CARES money received by the district.

Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero said the $1,200 amount was decided upon to account for taxes, allowing for each full-time contracted employee to at least bring home $1,000. Half-time contracted employees will receive a prorated gross amount of $600.

“We are still in a pandemic,” Romero said. “We are still planning on what next year is going to look like, and it will still look different. In fact, it might never quite look the same again.”

Contracted employees can expect to see the one-time pay increase in their end-of-month paychecks. The district is requesting employees to complete their letter of intent prior to receiving the payment.

When questioned about the legality of the one-time pay increase by C’Moya, Romero said he worked directly with the New Mexico State Auditor’s office as well as the district lawyers to ensure they “had all of (their) ducks in a row.”

“We are in the opinion that this is legal,” Romero said. “This is something positive for our staff members and it is something that we can do based on funding … we have also been able to work with our local union.”

Romero added he had a signed memorandum of understanding from the local teachers union, demonstrating their approval of the one-time pay increase.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education approved a similar bonus for teachers in late May, but had to backtrack due to a violation of the New Mexico Constitution’s anti-donation clause.

The clause says state employees — which includes employees of all public schools — cannot be paid extra for work they have already completed. The bonus check intended for APS teachers was meant for working through a pandemic for the 2020-21 school year.

The payments to the Los Lunas Schools employees are in anticipation of extra work during the upcoming school year, allowing them to fall outside of the anti-donation clause of the state constitution.

Although C’Moya currently sits as the lone board member on the Los Lunas Schools Board of Education, the New Mexico Public Education Department is set to appoint more members soon.

Applications to be appointed to the board were due to PED on June 8. It is unknown when Sec. Ryan Stewart will appoint the new board members.

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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.