State AG's office finds school board violated and corrected violation of open meetings law

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FARMINGTON – The Central Consolidated School District Board of Education has suspended its superintendent search as board members continue the discharge process of former Superintendent Don Levinski.

Board Vice President Ruthda Thomas said in a phone interview Thursday that board members have put the search for a permanent superintendent on hold as they work to discharge Levinski after placing him on administrative leave in August 2015.

Thomas said she did not know the exact date the board decided to suspend the search but the decision was made following a Feb. 9 work session in which board members voted to rescind the discharge notice for Levinski.

Levinski has been on paid administrative since Aug. 18, 2015, when three school board members voted to place him on leave and appoint Colleen Bowman as interim superintendent.

Dan Patterson, the consultant hired in January by the board to assist in the search, said he was contacted by a board member within the last month and told the board was suspending the search.

The school board held a special meeting on Feb. 8 with Patterson to develop a timeline and a process for finding a new superintendent. Patterson said work on the search stopped after that meeting.

Andrew Sanchez, the attorney representing the school board, said the board members have to take action regarding Levinski’s employment before searching for another superintendent. Sanchez said he is working on a new discharge notice for Levinski, and the board hopes to issue the notice in the future.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has ruled the board violated the state’s Open Meeting Act during the Aug. 18, 2015, meeting and corrected the violation by ratifying its decision during an Aug. 24, 2015, meeting.

A determination letter from the state AG’s Office was issued on Feb. 5 in response to a complaint filed on Aug. 21, 2015, by school board President Charlie Jones Jr. and board member Adam Begaye, who alleged Thomas, Secretary Christina J. Aspaas and board member Randy Manning of violating the state’s open meeting laws by not listing any personnel action on the agenda for the Aug. 18 meeting.

The determination letter was written by Assistant Attorney General Susan Sullivan and addressed to John Kennedy, former attorney for the school board. The document was provided to The Daily Times by attorney general spokesman James Hallinan.

Sullivan said in the letter the actions taken by the board to place Levinski on administrative leave and appoint Bowman on Aug. 18 were beyond the scope of the meeting's agenda.

“In reviewing the agenda, a member of the public could reasonably conclude that the only action to be taken was the superintendent’s evaluation,” Sullivan said in the letter.

But by holding a meeting six days later to discuss and vote on their actions again, Sullivan said the board took the “remedial steps” to be in compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

“We are encouraged by the Board’s actions in recognizing and taking immediate action to cure the deficiency related to the August 18 meeting,” Sullivan wrote in the letter.

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

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