LOS LUNAS — A late afternoon emergency expedited hearing on Thursday, May 19, confirmed previously suspended Los Lunas Board of Education members Eloy Giron, District 2, and Bryan Smith, District 4, be reinstated to their elected seats after a procedural error.
First Judicial District Court Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne said in her official ruling that the New Mexico state statute the New Mexico Public Education Department used to indefinitely — and later permanently — suspend the entirety of the Los Lunas Board of Education was not contrary to the New Mexico Constitution.
The judge also concluded PED acted both within its scope of authority and did not act “fraudulently, arbitrarily, or capriciously.”
However, since the secretary of education failed to consult with the New Mexico Public Education Commission and the “decision of the Public Education Department is not supported by substantial evidence as to appellants Eloy Giron and Bryan Smith,” both Smith and Giron were reinstated to the Los Lunas Board of Education as of last week.
“We plan to follow the judge’s order. Any decisions about next steps are currently under consideration,” said New Mexico Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus in a statement on the judge’s ruling.
The Public Education Commission is the authorization and oversight board for New Mexico charter schools.
“It’s been a rough two years, and I guess the roughest part has been knowing that I didn’t do anything, yet the accusations kept coming,” Smith told the News-Bulletin on Monday, May 23. “The thing that gets me the most is that they are the same accusations just over and over and over. I am very, very, very much relieved of the findings the judge found. She has actually restored my faith that the facts — and only the facts — are and should be relevant.”
As he finishes the remainder of his term, Smith said he plans to increase communication between individuals within the district so they can move towards their goal of serving and teaching the children of Los Lunas.
“If there are misunderstandings, then they need to be talked about and hashed out to a point where both parties are understanding to which each one’s position is and why we are asking for certain things.
“There is no way we will ever consider ourselves a perfect board. I don’t think we can consider ourselves a perfect district,” Smith said. “We need to consider that we always can improve. Once we start thinking we are as good as we can get, then we are failing.”
“I’m not holding any grudges. I’m going forward,” Giron told the News-Bulletin ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “The community needs some stability. Teachers, the parents, the staff, the community, the taxpayers, they need to move forward — that’s what they want us to do.”
According to the findings of fact in which PED upheld their decision, “there is no evidence (Smith) intended to threaten anybody.”
The language in state statute allowing for the suspensions of a school board, superintendents and principals, the Public Education Department can only suspend the entirety of the board — not any one individual member .
PED’s initial reasoning for the suspension cited “credible evidence that certain board members have persistently violated procurement and public access laws, the state Public School Code, and professional ethical standards.”
Appointed board members Sonya C’Moya, District 2, and Ragon Espinoza, District 4, have been informed of Giron and Smith’s reinstatement, and will not be returning to the Los Lunas Board of Education.
“I’m honored to have been selected as a board appointee by PED,” said C’Moya, who was serving as board president since January. “Basically, I truly appreciate serving again on the board of education. I also appreciate the support of the entire staff of Los Lunas Schools with their strength and tenacity going through everything — COVID and everything.”
Of the other suspended board members, David Vickers, District 3, was reelected to his seat in November 2021, and started a new four-year term in January.
Former member Steven Otero, District 5, also ran for his board seat in November, but lost to Los Lunas Schools Governing Council appointee Bruce Bennett.
Otero is also facing two misdemeanor counts of criminal violation of ethical principles of public service in relation to his one and a half years on the Los Lunas Board of Education. He has a pretrial conference scheduled on Thursday, June 23, at the 13th District Court.
Neither Otero, Vickers or Frank Otero, the suspended board member from District 1, appealed the department’s decision and therefore were not reinstated along with Giron and Smith, as per the judge’s order.
Both Smith and Giron took their seats for the regular board of education meeting on Tuesday, May 24, and a special meeting to reorganize the board held earlier in the evening.
Tina Garcia, the only appointee left on the board, was unanimously voted president. Vickers was voted as vice president on a 3-2 vote, with Giron and Smith voting against, and Garcia, Bennett and Vickers voting yes.
Neither Smith nor Giron were assigned to the finance or audit committees.
“I came here fully expecting to be a board member, and you made the comment earlier that we are going to work together as a board,” Smith said to Garcia following her committee assignments. “Based on your assignments to these two committees, it seems to me like we’re well on our way. You have excluded two board members intentionally. So, I hope there is some level of accountability with three board members overseeing two committees.”
Final order of reinstatement: Bryan Smith, Eloy Giron
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.