August 31, 2015

BREAKING: APS superintendent Luis Valentino resigns

Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Luis Valentino. Photo courtesy APS website

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Following weeks of turmoil, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Luis Valentino resigned Monday after just over two months on the job.

Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Luis Valentino. Photo courtesy APS website

Former Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Luis Valentino. Photo courtesy APS website

This story was updated from the original breaking news alert.

Now Raquel M. Reedy, the school district’s associate superintendent for elementary education, will be acting superintendent for the time being.

The APS Board of Education unanimously accepted Valentino’s resignation after a two-and-a-half hour closed door meeting Monday morning. This followed two other closed door school board meetings last week that lasted a combined 10 hours.

Valentino’s settlement will allow pay for his superintendent salary through Oct. 1. After that, the agreement gives him $80,000 as part of the settlement, which will add up to over $100,000 in all. A district court judge and the state public education department must approve the settlement.

School board member David Peercy read a prepared statement to the public about Valentino’s resignation.

“Given the parties’ differing views of the current incidents and the challenges in the district, and believing they have fundamental differences regarding the future of the district, an agreement has been reached which allows Dr. Valentino the ability to pursue other career interests and permits the board to hire another superintendent,” Peercy said.

One board member, Peggy Muller-Aragon, voted against going into executive session, citing a transparency issue.

During the first two meetings, Muller-Aragon stayed outside the door with the public, but she wasn’t outside during Monday’s meeting. She voted with the rest of the board to accept the resignation.

Valentino’s resignation contradicts statements he recently made to the media that he would not resign. Last week, he told New Mexico Political Report in an interview, “I do not believe I should resign in the context of what I am sharing with you.”

But the pressure to do so grew each day after New Mexico Political Report first found that his recently resigned deputy was facing a trial in October on previous charges of sexual assault of a child.

It started with a text message

From the time that Valentino accidentally sent a text message to Chief Financial Officer to the time that the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of education decided to move on was a little more than three weeks.

Protests outside of Albuquerque Public Schools ahead of Valentino's resignation. Photo: Joey Peters

Protests outside of Albuquerque Public Schools ahead of Valentino’s resignation. Photo: Joey Peters

But for Albuquerque Public Schools, it probably seemed like much longer as nearly every day brought new startling news about the state’s largest school district. It all led up to the news that the deputy superintendent Jason Martinez was facing trial for four felonies related to sexual abuse of a child and two charges related to domestic violence. APS never knew because a background check was never completed.

Valentino himself was there for at least some of the first executive session (which is allowed under the state’s Open Meetings Act when discussing “limited personnel matters”).

It appears the hire of Jason Martinez, the deputy secretary hand-picked by Valentino, ultimately led to the end of Valentino’s tenure in APS just months after being hired to replace another embattled superintendent, Winston Brooks.

From a ‘personnel issue’ to more

The scandal turned from what Valentino dubbed a “personnel issue forced into the headlines” into something more when Martinez resigned.

His resignation came after what seemed like a turf battle between himself and Moya.

Martinez had clashed with Moya in emails over a possible contract for an assessment of the district’s IT system. Moya did not believe it was necessary, while Martinez told the CFO that it was “not your call.”

Just days after the exchange, Valentino sent a text message that he was “going to go after” Moya and asked Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera if she had “any ideas.” Only Valentino had sent the text message to Moya himself instead of Skandera. That same day, Moya was placed on leave.

Moya has since filed a whistleblower lawsuit against APS, Skandera and Valentino.

The company that Martinez proposed do the IT assessment told media that Martinez pitched the idea personally to Bud Bullard, with whom he had worked at Denver Public Schools. Bullard lost his job after being involved in a kickback scheme.

It was after this, that Martinez resigned, with an APS statement saying it was for personal and family commitments.

Mugshot of Jason Martinez from 2013.

Mugshot of Jason Martinez from 2013.

Then the Albuquerque Journal reported that APS never completed a background check on Martinez. Background checks are required for all school district employees.

State law states, “An applicant for initial licensure shall be fingerprinted and shall provide two fingerprint cards or the equivalent electronic fingerprints to the department to obtain the applicant’s federal bureau of investigation record.”

This was never done for Martinez.

And a day after that, New Mexico Political Report found out that Martinez was facing six felony charges in Colorado, including sexual assault on a child from a position of trust and sexual assault on a child-pattern of abuse.

A background check would have shown APS that Martinez was facing these charges.

A history of problems at APS

Valentino is the second superintendent in a row, not counting interim superintendent Brad Winter, to be embroiled in controversy.

Winston Brooks resigned August 15, 2014 after the board found “serious personnel issues” that media reported involved his wife.

The report into the personnel issues has still not been released. The district cited personnel and attorney-client exemptions in the state’s open records law as the reason for their refusal to release the report. KOB-TV and the Albuquerque Journal sued the district earlier this year for the document’s release.

Even in his final days, Valentino could not escape new controversy. On Friday, when Valentino was taking personal leave and not in the office, questions about the hire of APS board president Don Duran’s daughter became an issue. State law prohibits the hire of board members’ families to school districts. APS said that she had never technically left the district and was instead on leave to work at a charter school.

Acting superintendent talks

Reedy, who’s been in education since 1974–mostly with APS—said the last three weeks of controversy haven’t distracted teachers from performing their jobs.

APS Acting Superintendent Raquel M. Reedy

APS Acting Superintendent Raquel M. Reedy. Credit Joey Peters

“The focus is always there,” Reedy told reporters following the Monday meeting. “In the last couple of weeks I’ve visited about 12 schools, and you need to know there’s been no distraction at the schools. I saw enthusiastic teachers, happy children. The work was going on. Nothing distracted them from doing the hard work of educating our students.”

While the public awaited a decision on Valentino’s fate Monday, Reedy said she got a call the day before about the possibility of her stepping into the role.

“I need to make sure sure that the district is running smoothly and that we are in a position to have a smooth transition for whoever it is who is going to be superintendent,” she said.

Update: We added information about Valentino’s resignation and quotes from the acting superintendent.

Read Luis Valentino’s resignation letter:

Voluntary Resignation and Settlement Agreement by New Mexico Political Report