Amid pandemic-induced budget cuts and a lawsuit over missed mortgage payments, Desert Academy Head of School Yann Lussiez announced in April he is stepping down from the small private school off Old Santa Fe Trail.
Lussiez will be succeeded by Pat Preib, who has served as the head of middle school at the private Bosque School in Albuquerque for the past three years.
"During this pandemic, we are looking at 30 percent budget cuts across the board," Lussiez said Wednesday in a phone interview. "It was pretty clear that for me to continue, the rate I was getting paid was too high, so we needed the head of school to be dropped."
Lussiez declined to share his salary and said he wasn't forced out by the school's board of trustees. He joined the school in 2016 as an assistant principal, then served as head of school for the past three years. He said he has taken an administrative position with a private elementary school in Maui, Hawaii.
Desert Academy, which charges around $20,000 per year in tuition and fees, was founded in 1994 and moved to its current location in 2012 after sealing a $6.9 million deal to buy land and buildings previously occupied by the New Mexico Academy for Science and Mathematics.
When Desert Academy moved to its current site, school officials told The New Mexican they hoped to use the campus to help grow enrollment from 170 to 250 students. Lussiez said enrollment was 128 students in grades 6-12 this school year and is expected to drop to around 100 students in the next school year.
In the deal for the campus, Desert Academy agreed to a 38-year payment plan that started at a rate of $8,500 per month and was set to steadily increase to a maximum rate of $34,200 per month in 2026.
According to a lawsuit filed last month in First Judicial District Court by Molly Multedo, whose family sold the campus, when payments increased to $19,200 in August 2018, Desert Academy and Multedo's representatives eventually agreed to lower payments to $10,000 through July 2020 under the condition that Multedo could foreclose on the school if it failed to fulfill the agreement.
According to the lawsuit, Desert Academy informed Multedo in February that it would not be able to resume originally scheduled payments in July. It asked for the rate of $10,000 per month to continue through August 2021. After that request was denied, Desert Academy informed Multedo in March the school "was not in a position to continue current mortgage payments," according to the lawsuit.
In April, Desert Academy received a letter stating it was in default for failing to make payments, according to the lawsuit. Multedo and her representatives are now asking for around $7.2 million in payments, interest and late fees, more than the $6.9 million the school agreed to pay in 2012, as well as for the property to be foreclosed upon and sold, according to the lawsuit.
Board Vice President Tom Clark declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing ongoing litigation.