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Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
The head of Albuquerque Public Schools’ human resources department is disputing Superintendent Luis Valentino’s claims that he was unaware of former deputy superintendent Jason Martinez’s incomplete background check, saying she told him six times that Martinez had not submitted to the check.
A background check would have turned up the fact that Martinez faces child sex abuse charges in Denver.
Through her attorney, APS interim assistant superintendent for HR Karen Rudys sent a letter to Valentino, APS Board of Education members and APS legal counsel on Saturday that stated she “raised the issue (of Martinez’s incomplete background check) directly” with Valentino “on or about” June 24, July 2, July 8, July 15, Aug. 11 and Aug. 19.
Until the Aug. 19 communication, “each time, Dr. Valentino deflected her by simply stating that he ‘was aware of the issue,'” Rudys said in the letter sent by attorney Sam Bregman.
The letter said that, on Aug. 19, Valentino responded by telling Rudys that Martinez had resigned.
Rudys’ account of the extensive communication is far different from the superintendent’s account, described Thursday through APS spokesman Rigo Chavez. Chavez said Valentino first heard about the background check problem a few weeks after Martinez started his APS job in June and that Valentino addressed it with Martinez at that time. Chavez said Valentino was then told again on Aug. 19.
School board members previously have aimed sharp criticism at HR, questioning how it could have let any employee, and especially a deputy superintendent, go so long without having a background check, which is usually conducted before an employee starts work.
The background check would have turned up serious legal problems for Martinez, who was hand-picked for the $160,000-a-year job by Valentino.
Martinez is facing six counts of sexual assault on a child by a person of trust in Denver for abuse that allegedly took place between May 2010 and June 2013.
Rudys in her letter states that the district does have a policy to prevent such a scandal from happening, but it “was circumvented by APS leadership.”
She said she was informed by APS counsel Art Melendrez in June that Martinez had already been hired, and she was given his start date and salary.
Rudys said she then sent numerous emails in June to Martinez asking him to submit to fingerprinting, but he simply ignored them. She next took the issue directly to Valentino on several occasions.
“Ms. Rudys believes it is important for APS leadership and the Board to know that the process to prevent the type of scandal that has just occurred was willfully circumvented by Jason Martinez,” her letter said, “and, further, such circumvention was aided by Dr. Valentino, whether knowingly or unknowingly.”
A broken process?
Bregman told the Journal that Rudys has documentation and witnesses to back her up.
“Much of that documentation is included in APS’ computers – they have it, too,” Bregman said.
The Journal has requested the emails under the state Inspection of Public Records Act. APS has yet to produce them.
Bregman stressed that Rudys followed district procedure “to the letter.”
“I think any review based on the way this has been handled needs to start with Dr. Valentino,” Bregman said. “And we will vigorously fight any attempt on the part of Dr. Valentino and others to try and throw Karen under the bus on this issue. She did everything she was supposed to do.”
The Board of Education will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. today to discuss a limited personnel matter regarding the superintendent.
But many board members have publicly defended Valentino and blamed human resources for the lack of background check.
“HR, that is their responsibility – that is why you have an HR department,” Board President Don Duran said in an interview with the Journal on Friday. “As a former superintendent and a principal, when I hire a teacher or an employee, I expect HR to do their process before they allow that employee to go to work. What bothers me is where has the district process fallen apart?”
Calls to Duran on Saturday seeking a response to Rudys’ letter were not returned by Saturday evening.
Board member Peggy Muller-Aragón said Saturday she is waiting to hear Valentino’s response to Rudys’ claims, saying everyone should be given a chance to tell their side of the story.
APS spokesman Chavez said Saturday that Valentino preferred to address the board during Sunday’s meeting before commenting to the media about the letter.
Bregman said Rudys is “disappointed with the comments that would even imply that somehow she did anything wrong.”
“She brought the issue up time and time again to Mr. Martinez and he just ignored her, and she brought up the issue time and time again to the person she reports to, and that is Dr. Valentino,” Bregman added. “Anything said otherwise is just completely false.”
Her letter was addressed to Valentino and Duran, with the rest of the board and the APS attorney copied in.
At least 2 victims
An arrest warrant for Martinez was issued in July 2013 in Denver and he is awaiting an Oct. 9 jury trial.
It appears there are at least two victims and at least one alleged victim is a boy younger than 15, according to court documents originally obtained by NM Political Report.
The documents say one child in July 2013 told police that Martinez sexually assaulted him in or after taking a shower when the child was staying at Martinez’s house the previous summer.
Another accusation involved an alleged assault on a child in a hotel room in Las Vegas, Nev.
Martinez was hired from a position as vice president of education solutions at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a publishing company. He also worked in a variety of administrative positions at Denver Public Schools from 2000 to 2012, including as principal of a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school.
A Denver Public Schools representative told KOAT-TV she could not say why Martinez left the district and said there were no problems with him as far as she was aware.
According to Valentino, he and Martinez became acquainted through the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, and communicated frequently about educational issues.
“I was surprised to learn of these charges and certainly would never have offered Mr. Martinez employment with the district if I had known,” Valentino said in a statement Friday evening. “I regret that decision.”
Martinez’s legal issues are only the latest high-profile controversy to roil APS’ central office.
Problems first arose on Aug. 7, when chief financial officer Don Moya was placed on paid administrative leave. A few days later, text messages were posted online showing Valentino accidentally texting Moya the morning of Aug. 7 that he was going to “go after” him for running “roughshot.” Valentino had been trying to text New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera.
Next, emails came to light showing Martinez and Moya battling on Aug. 6 over a request for a proposal that Martinez wanted to send to a tech company that had recently employed a former Denver Public Schools administrator accused of taking kickbacks. Martinez had worked with him in Denver.
Moya wrote that canceling the RFP is within his authority and stressed that he felt he had legitimate concerns.
On Friday, Duran said he has “complete confidence” in Valentino’s leadership, adding that the superintendent’s position is not at risk.
“He is our superintendent,” Duran said. “We will be reviewing with the superintendent the steps that have occurred because he is our employee.”
Muller-Aragón told KOAT on Friday that she was one of Valentino’s “biggest supporters.”
“He has promise,” she said at the time. “Things haven’t started out the way we hoped they would, but I believe people, we make mistakes. Own up to your mistakes and then move forward.”
In a statement to KOAT, board member Lorenzo Garcia said early Saturday he has confidence in Valentino and wants to move forward. Later Saturday, when contacted by the Journal about Rudys’ letter, he was more cautious. He said that he had not seen the letter and was concerned that things are coming out in the media that he has not been briefed on.
No other board members could be reached for comment Saturday evening.