Attention APS Students, Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers:
In our latest episode of "As the District Turns," on which I was asked to weigh in for KNME’s In Focus, Ex-Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez, was telling a Denver Judge that he was really telecommuting to Albuquerque from his Denver home, and thus not violating the conditions of his bail agreement. Unbeknownst to APS staffers and board members, Martinez was awaiting trial on a number of felony counts—one for alleged sexual abuse of children and the another for a domestic violence assault on a boyfriend. He was not supposed to leave the state.
APS staffers, including Superintendant Luis Valentino, the man who hired him without checking his references or heeding repeated warnings that he had not undergone a required background check, saw him often, however, and said so. The judge has now held Martinez and upped his bail to $200,000.
It’s only by luck—or incompetence—that the public found out about any of this when the new superintendant Valentino (on the job for 2 ½ months) sent a text to Education Secretary Hanna Skandera boasting that he was going to fire the district’s Chief Financial Officer(CFO), who was acting without authority in trying to put the kibosh on a contract for IT services that Jason Martinez was trying to give to an old friend, Bud Bullard. Bullard had earlier been dismissed from the Denver School District for taking kickbacks. Foolishly, the CFO, Don Moya, was worried about the waste of taxpayer dollars. One problem: the Superintendant mistakenly sent the text with his boast to the CFO himself instead of Skandera.
Moya then apparently sent the text back to Valentino and it somehow became public. The cat was then out of the bag. Shortly thereafter, Moya was put on administrative leave. To date, no reason has been given for that.
Meanwhile The NM Political Report’s Joey Peters uncovered the questionable background of Jason Martinez—without much more than a Google search, I’m told. The public outcry began. And rumors started spreading.
How could the new Super have hired a pedophile without a background check or even a simple reference check? Aren’t even parent volunteers required to get a background check? Is this Superintendant competent to run one of the country’s largest school districts?
Why was the Super communicating with the controversial PED Secretary about his intention to fire staff? Was he protecting Jason Martinez? Does he routinely ask permission from the Secretary on major moves? Did the two have a prior relationship before Valentino came to APS? Is he a shill for the administration?
Some of these questions were fueled by a whistleblower lawsuit filed a few days thereafter by Don Moya. It was filed not just against the APS Superintendant and the Board but also vs. the Public Education Secretary and Governor. Moya alleges he was put on leave because he blew the whistle on Jason Martinez whom he says got the dept. superintendant job, which had earlier been promised to him. His lawyer comes from a Santa Fe firm who also employs a Democratic House member, prompting calls from the Governor that Moya’s complaint is purely partisan.
Honest, you can’t make this stuff up.
Luis Valentino is not resigning. Instead he made an apology tour to Albuquerque media, pleading for understanding. But Valentino is standing on shaky ground. With only a few months under his belt, he has no offsetting accomplishments to point to, no reservoir of good will he can draw upon.
Yet incredibly, the APS Board delays action on whether his should be fired or retained. At their last meeting on Thursday Aug. 27 they decided—to decide at the next meeting. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what they did at their last closed session on Sunday Aug. 23.
Here’s my opinion: Valentino should do more than apologize. He should resign. I feel bad for him. Maybe it was just a mistake. But students and teachers suffer consequences for their mistakes. The top dogs should too. I don’t see how Valentino can inspire any credibility. Someone who hires a friend in spite of repeated red flags cannot rebuild public trust in the district. And if the Board enables his behavior it will do even more to dash public confidence than it has by its inaction.
Yes, it may cost money to get rid of Valentino. But how much is public trust in our schools worth, anyway?