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Mora schools leader on leave

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By David Giuliani

The Mora school board has placed the district’s superintendent on paid administrative leave.

Dora Romero, who has been the superintendent since 2008, is on leave pending a discharge hearing, said Joseph Griego, the board’s chairman.

The vote to put the superintendent on leave was 4-1, with member George Trujillo dissenting.

Romero didn’t return a message for comment left on her home phone Wednesday.

The board is now in negotiations with a former superintendent, Leroy “Huero” Sanchez,” to serve as interim superintendent, Griego said. Sanchez left as president of Luna Community College under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations three years ago.

Griego wouldn’t reveal the board’s reasons for placing Romero on leave, saying it was a personnel matter. But in October, the chairman was critical of the superintendent’s handling of controversial expenditures that drew the ire of State Auditor Hector Balderas.

Earlier in the year, Romero had asked for the state auditor to investigate some of her district’s spending after the Optic placed inquiries about gifts to area state lawmakers, including leather jackets and hundreds of dollars worth of beef jerky and other refreshments and meals.

Griego said in October that Romero had told the board that subordinates wanted to spend the money on the leather jackets but that she was nervous about the expenses. She ended up signing off on them, however.

“We told her that if you don’t agree with expenses, you have the authority not to approve them. She is making $100,000 a year. She should already have the capacity about whether spending is right or wrong,” said Griego, who was elected in March.

Griego noted that Romero originally accepted a leather jacket but gave it back when the Optic started raising questions about the expenditures.

In his audit, Balderas’ office looked closely at spending from the discretionary account, from which the lawmakers’ gifts were paid. His office accused the Mora district of illegally diverting federal and other funds to the account.

In October, Griego said employees deposited money in the discretionary account when other funds should have been reimbursed. He said it was often considered easier to put the funds in the discretionary account than undergoing the procedures for depositing funds in other accounts — a practice that he said had to stop.

“It’s disheartening to know that there is a procurement process to protect state and federal funds, yet we have individuals who oversee this process who somehow were unaware that funds can’t be used in this way,” Griego said in the October interview.