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Applicant mired in controversy

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By David Giuliani

One of the candidates for West Las Vegas superintendent is in jeopardy of losing her licenses. But she’s fighting the allegations against her.

Kaye Peery, who is on paid leave as the superintendent of Zuni Pueblo schools, is among seven applicants for the West position. She makes $130,000 a year.

She was placed on leave in January 2009 after allegations of misspending and improper hiring surfaced. The Zuni district, which is south of Gallup, has had an interim leader since that time, in effect paying for two superintendents.

The state contends Peery has excessively spent district money, including the purchase of three $40,000 hybrid SUVs for her, school board members and top staffers.

Among other allegations, she is accused of billing the district $1,000 for Internet service at her second home in northeast New Mexico and hiring friends who were not qualified for top-level jobs. For instance, she hired her domestic partner, Libby Thomas, as the $89,000-a-year associate superintendent, according to the state.

In a telephone interview, Peery said she was the victim of homophobia.

“My licenses are good. I have no doubt that if the state does the right thing, I will be cleared,” she said. “I have broken no law or done anything unethical or wrong,” Peery said. “I will fight them (state officials) until I prove it.”

She said all of the expenditures and hirings in question had the Zuni school board’s blessing.

As for the $40,000 SUVs, Peery said the district had a lot of money it needed to spend.

“The SUVs were purchased with money we were getting ready to lose. The district fleet was very old,” she said. “We wanted some nice SUVs. We did a lot of traveling.”

Peery said hybrid cars are better for the environment but more expensive.

She said she had the district pay for Internet service to her home in Miami in northeast New Mexico, so she could do work for the district during holidays.

Regarding the disputed hirings, Peery said after a long career in education, one gets to know people who are highly competent. She said that’s how she hired people for the Zuni district, including her domestic partner.

“I hired Ms. Thomas. She is very good at what she does,” Peery said.

She said hiring a domestic partner is not considered a conflict of interest under state law. She said many superintendents’ spouses are employed in their districts.  

After Peery was placed on leave, the Public Education Department held a 17-day hearing, which Peery described as a “circus.” The agency threw out the results of that hearing and held another one. Peery awaits the department secretary’s decision on her licenses.

Peery said the district’s board had backed her in 2009, but that the state interfered. The board’s composition has since changed, so Peery doubts that she would be kept as superintendent if she prevails with the state.

The Optic checked the Internet as to whether the other candidates had been involved in public controversies. Nothing turned up.

• • •

The West board plans to interview superintendent candidates starting at 9 a.m. Monday in the board room.

Board President Christine Ludi said the board hasn’t decided whether those interviews will be in public or behind closed doors. Some candidate have expressed concerns that such sessions would be in public, she said.

As a result, the board is consulting its attorney, Ramon Vigil, she said.

• • •

The superintendent’s position will become vacant July 1. In March, the board majority voted against renewing current Superintendent Jim Abreu’s contract.