Former CCSD superintendent requests hearing

Former Central Consolidated School District Superintendent Don Levinski has requested a due process hearing in response to the district Board of Education’s actions to remove him from his position

Joshua Kellogg
President Charlie Jones Jr. starts the Aug. 24 Central Consolidated School District board meeting in the Shiprock Board Room in Shiprock.

FARMINGTON – Former Central Consolidated School District Superintendent Don Levinski has requested a due process hearing in response to the Board of Education's decision to remove him from his position in August.

John Kennedy, the attorney representing the school board, said Levinski was served with a notice of discharge in middle to late September. Levinski replied to the notice through his Bernalillo-based lawyer Eleanor K. Bratton in early October.

Attempts to contact Bratton on Thursday were not successful.

The CCSD board members voted to remove Levinski as superintendent and place him on administrative leave during an Aug. 18 meeting. During that meeting, the board members appointed former Supervisor of Schools Colleen Bowman interim superintendent.

Central Consolidated School District Interim Superintendent Colleen Bowman says the district was prepared to be placed on the state auditor’s "At-Risk" list.

Two members of the board, President Charlie Jones Jr. and member Adam Begaye, filed a complaint with the New Mexico Attorney General's Office on Aug. 21, alleging board Vice President Ruthda Thomas, Secretary Christina J. Aspaas and board member Randy Manning had violated the state's open meetings act at the Aug. 18 meeting.

A follow-up meeting was held on Aug. 24 to ratify the board’s actions to appoint Bowman and place Levinski on paid administrative leave.

Kennedy, a partner at the Albuquerque-based law firm Cuddy and McCarthy LLP, said there has been no date set for the hearing, and Levinski will remain on paid administrative leave until an agreement is made with the school board.

Levinski's current annual salary is $125,000, and his contract was extended to June 30, 2018, during the Jan. 21 school board meeting.

Jones Jr. said his main concern is complying with the law and following board policy by sending Levinski the notice of discharge letter.

"If I was going against that, I would be breaking another law," Jones said, referring to the board's potential open meetings act violations.

The process for terminating a contract for a school superintendent can be a laborious process, according to Albuquerque-based attorney Marty Esquivel, former Albuquerque Public Schools board president.

Esquivel said superintendents receive the same protection under the state personnel code as teachers, which requires a sufficient number of facts to provide just cause for removal.

“The process to get rid of a teacher and superintendent are very long and difficult,” Esquivel said. “I think that the school superintendents should not receive the same level of due process rights as a teacher.”

It can become more complicated once a hearing for a superintendent is requested, Esquivel said.

The school board serves as the hearing officer for district employees who request a due process hearing. Since the board members have brought the charges against a superintendent, it’s not clear if the school board will be the ruling party or if an independent party would be hired to issue the ruling.

“In some cases, the school board will have to go out and hire an attorney for a hearing officer,” Esquivel said.

Negotiations can start at any point in the arbitration process to buy out the remainder of the superintendent’s contract.

Central Consolidated School District board members listen as President Charlie Jones Jr. speaks during an Aug. 24 meeting in the Shiprock Board Room in Shiprock.

Esquivel said no formal charges were brought against Luis Valentino, former Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent, before the APS board negotiated the buyout of his contract.

CCSD settled the contract of former Superintendent Gregg Epperson for $200,000 in December 2011 after he was placed on administrative leave on May 26, 2011, according to The Daily Times archives.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.