“We know that public trust is an issue for us now, and we will do everything we can to regain the public trust and confidence.”
– APS Board of Education President Don Duran
Apparently nothing says public trust to six of the seven members of the APS Board of Education like a needless, five-hour secret meeting in the middle of a firestorm of controversy.
How else to explain slamming the door on 30-plus members of the public – accompanied by the one board member who showed she had their interests at heart – and hunkering down under the guise of “personnel issues”?
When the board scheduled a special meeting Sunday evening in the wake of an e-mail/background check/sexual assault on a child scandal, there was hope the public would get some much-needed answers on policies and procedures – and some fact-finding as to which were followed and which were ignored.
After that, any discussion specific to now Superintendent Luis Valentino and his now ex-deputy superintendent Jason Martinez – who faces six counts of sexual assault on a child by a person of trust, a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon causing injury and likely charges for jumping bail in Denver to take the job here – could have happened behind closed doors.
Only Peggy Muller-Aragon, who represents the northwest quadrant and Corrales, voted against shutting the public out.
Keep in mind this is a public that has routinely been stuck with hefty tabs for superintendents that don’t work out, most recently Winston Brooks, who pocketed a $350,000 check thanks to a private deal with the board. And what facts led to this generous going-away check? Sorry taxpayers, more secret stuff. The Journal and KOB-TV have filed a lawsuit seeking to open up the factual findings in that report.
It should also be pointed out that this is a school board whose president wasted no time in throwing the district’s Human Resources Department under the bus after it became known that Martinez was hired without a background check and refused to do one after he was on the payroll.
No fingerprints for this high-ranking bureaucrat.
But the chief of HR says through her lawyer that she notified Valentino, not once but six times, that the background check for his hand-picked deputy had yet to be done.
Instead of walking all that public trust talk, Duran, Lorenzo Garcia, Analee Maestas, David Peercy, Barbara Peterson and Steven Michael Quezada simply shut the public out – with Duran emerging hours later to read a vague prepared apology and lament “a painful experience for the board.” Board members then left by the same back door that Valentino had entered through.
Duran has said he steadfastly supports Valentino. And it’s not lost on critics inside APS that one of Valentino’s first acts was to appoint Duran’s daughter associate superintendent for middle schools. She is regarded as qualified, but whether the appointment violated the district’s nepotism policy was a close call.
Now, Attorney General Hector Balderas is looking into why APS safety protocols were breached and the Denver District Attorney’s Office is seeking to revoke bond in Martinez’s two pending felony cases.
So how could someone facing criminal charges involving a child get hired and start work in a top position in the 30th-largest school district in the nation?
Muller-Aragon says, “I believe the public has the right to know. … We want to be transparent. There is a breach of confidence.”
After her board colleagues and Valentino turned the APS meeting room into a bunker Sunday, make that at least two breaches.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.