Luis Valentino is still in charge of the school district, at least for now.
A grueling five-hour special Albuquerque Public Schools board meeting over “a limited personnel matter relating to the superintendent” didn’t result in any immediate decision on Valentino’s position as superintendent of APS. Instead, another special school board meeting will take place Thursday at 7 am.
Nearly the entire meeting occurred in executive, closed-door session. At the end of the meeting, school board President Don Duran read a statement saying the board had a “very thorough and rigorous discussion of the facts” with Valentino.
“Let me be clear that this has been a painful experience for the board, Superintendent Valentino, and the community,” Duran said. “We know that public trust is an issue for us now and we will do everything we can to regain the public’s trust and confidence. We apologize for putting the community through this kind of deal.”
All the board members quickly scattered after adjournment without commenting to the media.
Maria Bautista, one of the public attendees who stayed through the entire meeting, expressed her displeasure with the board.
“You’re in error,” she told remaining staff in the room after the meeting adjourned. “You needed to make some kind of a decision tonight. For you to carry it over is totally inappropriate.”
She, like a handful of others who showed up earlier in the meeting, called for Valentino’s resignation.
“If you don’t follow through with that we’re going to take everybody that we know to every board meeting until you act in an appropriate matter and protect our children,” Bautista said.
When the meeting began, some showed up with signs criticizing at Valentino and APS. Marlene Grant, an English teacher at Valley High School, faulted Valentino for already allowing two big scandals in just two months on the job.
“In literature, this is foreshadowing,” she said.
One board member, Peggy Muller-Aragon, refused to go into executive session, calling it a “breach of confidence” with the public.
“Nobody is going to have confidence in us if we go on this side of the door,” she said. It is not the first time she refused to enter an executive session when discussing a personnel matter.
How it ended up here
The last few weeks have been anything but smooth for Valentino, starting with an errant text message to Chief Financial Officer Don Moya and snowballing into the resignation of Jason Martinez, the deputy superintendent.
Martinez is facing trial on multiple felonies related to sexual abuse of children. APS did not know until told by New Mexico Political Report because APS never performed a required background check on Martinez.
The text message—which appeared meant for state Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera—showed Valentino planning that he was “going to go after” Moya. Valentino texted that Moya had been “allowed to ride roughshot [sic] over here and controls a lot of d [sic] financials.”
Valentino’s text also asked Skandera, a controversial figure among educators, if she had “any ideas.”
The district put Moya on paid administrative leave later that day and still has refused to say why, saying it is a personnel matter.
Internal emails from the earlier that week showed Moya clashing with Martinez over a potential contract with the district. Moya, who has been in a top role with the school district since 2010, questioned the need for contracting with an outside company to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the school district’s IT system.
Moya raised concerns that the wide scope of the assessment Martinez wanted would be wasting public money “to tell the district what it already knows.” Moya also wrote that he was halting plans to write a request for proposals for the district until his concerns were met.
“Not your call Don,” Martinez wrote back on Aug. 6. “The work will move forward as planned.”
Moya also questioned Martinez’ original plan to award the contract for the IT assessment to a former coworker who was busted for receiving kickbacks at Denver Public Schools.
As the initial scandal refused to leave the headlines with new revelations coming almost daily, Valentino rarely spoke out publicly about it except to call it “personnel issue forced into the headlines.”
Only one Albuquerque school board member, Steven Michael Quezada, directly addressed the text controversy. At last week’s regular APS board meeting, Quezada noted that he was “really concerned about matters of personnel going to the Secretary of Education” and brought up the school district’s clashes with Skandera’s school reform agenda.
Still, Quezada maintained he was supportive of Valentino.
But this was before the most shocking revelations.
Surprise resignation, surprise criminal charges
Last Thursday, Martinez abruptly announced his resignation from the district. Soon, it was reported that he had never completed a required criminal background check or submitted his fingerprints to the district, as is required of all employees.
The next afternoon, New Mexico Political Report found that Martinez was awaiting a trial in October for four felonies related to sexual abuse of a child, including some charges that said the child was under the age of 15. Martinez was arrested in Colorado in July 2013 under the name “Timothy Jason Martinez.”
Valentino said he had no idea about Martinez’ previous arrest and added that he would have never had hired him if he had known. But a letter from APS interim assistant superintendent of Human Resources Karen Rudys said that Valentino was told six times about the lack of a background check for the $160,000-a-year employee.
The school board hired Valentino in April after an extensive search by a national headhunter firm. Valentino brought 28 years of experience in education, most recently as an assistant superintendent with San Francisco United School District.
Valentino officially began work with APS on June 22 with a three-year contract at $240,000 per year. He also handpicked two top administrators—Martinez and Chief of Staff Toni Cordova—at $160,000 and $170,000 annual salaries, respectively.
In May, Valentino told KOAT-TV that he would not plan on asking for a buyout if the day came when the school board would ask for his resignation.
“I do not want to leave and say, ‘Well, if you’re kicking me out pay me out the door,’” he told the TV station.
Update (11:35): Added quotes from board members and the public.
Correction: A DA’s office spokeswoman in Denver previously told New Mexico Political Report there were six charges. The spokeswoman told New Mexico Political Report on Monday, Aug. 24 that two were dismissed because they were duplicative. The story has been updated to reflect this.