LOS LUNAS—More than a month after Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Dana Sanders was discharged from her position by the board of education on June 16, she still hasn’t received any communication from the board regarding her employment status.
Since then, Sanders has continued to be paid as if she’s going into work every single day. The Los Lunas Board of Education hired Walt Gibson in April as the interim superintendent.
“Discharge proceedings require a reason for discharge. I have yet to hear one, other than in an administrative leave letter sent to me on April 23, which stated I would remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of the financial investigation,” Sanders said. “Whether that investigation is complete is unknown to me at this time.”
Los Lunas Board of Education President Bryan Smith wrote in an email to the News-Bulletin on July 26 that there will be a hearing after Sanders receives the letter of intent, but the financial investigation is not over.
“There is a time frame for that upon receipt of the letter. We are still currently working through the due process requirements. Given all of our current circumstances, I feel we need to make sure we are properly taking the necessary actions and prioritizing. I believe that had the letter been prepared earlier, it would most certainly spawn a chain of events that would take away from my top priority.”
Smith wrote he is putting 100 percent of his efforts towards the safety of staff, students and families, and will do whatever he can to help provide the necessary resources to educate them.
“We must get our school year started,” he said.
Sanders requested medical leave on April 3, but on April 5, she emailed the board saying she would be able to return sooner than the 30 days and would provide the proper medical paperwork so she could return. She was then placed on paid administrative leave on April 16 after the board asked for additional medical documentation.
Smith said the board received the medical documentation on Tuesday, April 7, and requested a fitness-for-duty test in addition to the documentation. On May 14, Sanders sent out a letter containing complaints against some members of the school board.
Sanders stated in the letter she has received no explanation as to why she was put on administrative leave, and felt when the board requested more medical documentation, they were using that as a stall tactic until they could put her on administrative leave.
Smith explained the quick turnaround from Sanders caused concern for the board and was the reason for requesting the fitness for duty test. He said the board sent Sanders a letter on April 22 detailing why she was on administrative leave.
On May 26, Smith sent out a response letter to Sanders, in rebuttal to her statement that he was working alone against her. He wrote the board members voted 5-0 to place Sanders on leave and hire an acting superintendent.
“Your placement on paid leave arose from you requesting extended FMLA supported by your health care provider for a medical condition you suffered,” Smith wrote. “Despite rumors, it is simply untrue that you sought leave to care for a family member. It was only upon the entire board temporarily filling your position with an acting superintendent that you made what appeared to be an incredible recovery and sought to return immediately.”
The board voted 3-2 to have Sanders remain on paid leave pending the result of the financial investigation.
“I believe a lot of questions will be answered after the hearing if that happens, which I anticipate would be quite soon,” Smith said. “While I will not speak for the entire board, I feel the need to ensure everything is done properly in this process and I only have the district’s best interests in mind.
“I view we are going to move forward with our current administration and further with completing the process of preparing to search for our next superintendent.”
Sanders said she was the one who suggested the investigation, but did not anticipate the board discharging her from her position before the investigation started.
“Due to board member Steven Otero’s insistence on an audit of the maintenance department, I suggested that an outside entity look into his concerns,” Sanders said. “I find it hard to believe that the audit would be the real reason for the discharge. I believe the reporting of their wrongdoing and personal vendettas is their motivation.”