CCSD superintendent saga far from over

Noel Lyn Smith
Don Levinski, former superintendent of the Central Consolidated School District, addresses the Legislative Finance Committee on July 10, 2014, at San Juan College in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Although the Central Consolidated School District board voted late Thursday to officially discharge former Superintendent Don Levinski, the matter appears to be far from over.

After a 30-minute executive session on Thursday, the board voted 3-0 to end Levinski’s service as superintendent, a position he has held since 2012. Board member Adam Begaye abstained from voting, and board President Charlie Jones Jr. was absent from the work session.

Levinski's attorney, Eleanor K. Bratton, said on Friday that her client has not ruled out filing an appeal of the board's decision.

"The decision where to go from here is unclear," Bratton said. "What we do will depend on what we get from the board."

State law allows an employee to appeal a decision made by a local school board or governing authority to an arbitrator. The employee must submit a written appeal within five working days of receiving the written decision.

Board Vice President Ruthda Thomas, Secretary Christina J. Aspaas and member Randy Manning voted Thursday to discharge Levinski as superintendent.

When reached by phone on Friday, Thomas declined to comment about the decision.

District spokesman James Preminger said on Friday that Levinski remains on the district’s payroll. Preminger referred further questions to John Kennedy, the school board's attorney.

"The decision the board made last night terminates (Levinski) as a school employee," Kennedy said in a phone interview Friday.

As of Friday afternoon, the district was in the process of issuing Levinski a discharge letter, he said.

Kennedy declined to explain the reasons behind Levinski's discharge, saying it was a personnel matter. He added that Thursday’s board decision also denied Levinski’s request for a due process hearing.

According to Kennedy, Levinski received a notice of discharge on Sept. 25, and the district received Levinski’s request for a due process hearing on Oct. 6. Kennedy said Levinski’s request for a hearing was not received within five working days, as mandated by state law.

Bratton, Levinski’s attorney, said Friday that her client's request for a due process hearing was sent immediately. She said her tracking records from the U.S. Postal Service indicate the request arrived in the board’s post office box on Oct. 1.

Bratton also said it was no surprise Thomas, Aspaas and Manning voted to terminate Levinski. But, Bratton maintained, her client has the right to due process. She added that Levinski will "utilize" all rights afforded to him.

In a phone interview Friday, Jones said he missed Thursday's meeting because of family matters.

“I’m disappointed,” Jones said about the board’s action.

He reiterated that the Aug. 18 vote by Manning, Aspaas and Thomas to place Levinski on paid administrative leave was done "illegally." At that meeting, the board also voted to appoint Colleen Bowman as the district's interim superintendent.

Jones and Begaye filed a complaint on Aug. 21 with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office alleging the three board members violated the state’s open meetings act during the Aug. 18 meeting.

Jones said he has not heard an update on the complaint.

Levinski has been the superintendent of CCSD since 2012. He was hired on Aug. 1, 2007, as principal of Tsé Bit’a’í Middle School in Shiprock. He was appointed acting superintendent in May 2011 when then Superintendent Gregg Epperson was placed on paid administrative leave.

Levinski was named the permanent superintendent in February 2012.

In January, Levinski’s contract was extended to June 30, 2018, and his salary was raised from $110,000 to $125,000 annually.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

Members of the Central Consolidated School District board and interim Superintendent Colleen Bowman, at right, listen on Thursday during a work session at the district's board room in Shiprock.