The stage was set for a showdown Wednesday night over a proposed two-year contract extension for Luna Community College President Pete Campos.
But a last-minute compromise avoided that showdown, with the board voting 6-1 to grant Campos a one-year contract extension, meaning that Campos will be at the school’s helm through at least June 30, 2014.
The compromise was brokered during a two-hour executive session. Prior to that closed-door session, three board members — Ambrose Castellano, Abelino Montoya and Levi Alcon — had voted to remove the contract extension from the agenda, arguing that with four of the board’s seven seats up for grabs during the March 5 election, it would be inappropriate to extend the contract.
“The majority is up for re-election,” Castellano said. “It’s not fair to the people who are running for a position to be forced, and no disrespect to Dr. Campos, but to be forced to have somebody that they don’t know how the person works... To me it’s not fair.”
The remaining board members — David Gutierrez, Tony Valdez, Jerry Maestas and Frankie Tenorio — voted to keep Campos’ contract extension on the agenda.
“My feeling is that he’s been with us here for five years...,” Valdez said. “It’s kind of hard to say let’s have the new board members decide the contract because we’re here every meeting. This is with all due respect to incoming board members. We’ve been to every board meeting, so we’ve worked together. We’ve fought together, and it’s kind of hard for me to say let’s let the new board members, whoever they may be, coming in, decide that contract.”
Campos has served as Luna’s president since July of 2008. He was given a five-year contract when he was hired. That contract was set to expire on June 30.
The new contract runs from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2014. His salary remains the same at $150,000 a year.
Board members went into executive session at 6:20 p.m. and returned to public session at 8:34 p.m.
Gutierrez made the motion for a one-year contract extension, and Alcon seconded it.
In explaining his vote to approve the one-year contract, Montoya said he was initially going to vote against it, but in an effort to show unity on the board decided to vote yes.
Valdez and Maestas both said that they had been hoping for a two-year contract for the sake of stability at the college, but they said they were happy with the compromise reached.
The lone board member voting against the contract was Castellano, who argued that the decision should be made once the new board is in place.
Castellano isn’t seeking re-election. Maestas, Alcon and Montoya are seeking another term.
Castellano, Alcon and Montoya have been critical of Luna’s administration in recent years. In fact, Castellano said one of the reasons he decided not to seek another term is because he’s been pushing for things to get done that aren’t getting done, and he doesn’t have the support of the administration.
In an interview after the vote, Campos told the Optic he’s pleased and grateful to the trustees for coming together. He said the college will be preparing for accreditation over the next year, and the contract extension ensures continuity and stability at the college over that period.
“We’re looking at moving forward,” Campos said. “The trustees came together and it was important because this was to show our students we care about them and we’re really putting them first. And the same thing with our employees to ensure that they’re going to be put first in this process as we go forward so that people at the college know that there’s going to be continuity.”
Campos said that over the last five years, employees at the college have come together to address issues regarding academic rigor. He said during that period the board has brought its policies into compliance with the state’s Community College Act.
“I’m most excited about the fact that during these tough economic times since 2008 we have kept people working,” Campos said. “We have continued to provide quality education at a very affordable cost to our students. So I’m proud of the fact that during the toughest of times the Luna family — from our administration to every employee and to all of our students — rose to the occasion...”
Campos said many challenges remain. Since 2008, 50,000 jobs have been lost in New Mexico. He said most of the young people who leave this state don’t return, resulting in a brain drain. Small communities are losing population. There’s a water shortage. And in northeastern New Mexico, there’s a need for good healthcare, good education and economic development, Campos said.
“New Mexico definitely is at a place right now where we have to work together,” he said. “And in particular in northeastern New Mexico, which is our service area for Luna, we need to continue to find ways to be creative, to get our young people educated, to get people retrained if necessary and get people working.”
Campos said he believes he can help make a difference in this part of the state.
“I’m going to do everything possible to continue to help to grow our educational system but also to keep people at home, if at all possible, so they can work here and raise their families,” he said.