Albuquerque Public Schools’ embattled Superintendent Luis Valentino said he made a mistake hiring former Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez but denied claims that he repeatedly was told of Martinez’s incomplete background check.
In a meeting Tuesday with Journal editors and reporters, Valentino said he is upset with himself for not being aware of Martinez’s many legal problems, which include child sex assault charges in Denver.
“Now that the legal system has caught up, I feel this sadness because I brought him here,” he said.
Valentino also stressed that Martinez was his pick, and his alone, for deputy superintendent – selected for his exceptional ability with curriculum – and that Gov. Susana Martinez and Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera played no role in that choice.
The superintendent was responding to allegations in a lawsuit filed against him by Chief Financial Officer Don Moya that Martinez was chosen for the position “at the urging” of the governor and Skandera.
“I think he met the secretary one time when I introduced them,” he said. “The secretary and governor didn’t know him.”
Instead, Valentino said that it was his call to offer the position to Martinez, a former Denver Public Schools administrator Valentino met five years earlier through a professional organization.
Valentino and Martinez kept in contact and Valentino said he was impressed with his innovative ideas regarding curriculum.
Martinez began his job at APS on July 1, and Valentino said he had expected routine matters like fingerprinting would be completed that day.
Valentino said that’s what happened when he began his first official day June 1, and he expected the same to occur for Martinez.
But two weeks after Martinez came onboard, on July 15, APS Interim Superintendent for Human Resources Karen Rudys told Valentino that Martinez had not provided his fingerprints for the mandatory criminal background check. Valentino said he immediately brought it up with Martinez, who told him he would take care of it.
Human Resources emailed Martinez several times in June – even before his start date – requesting fingerprints, but he ignored those attempts. HR did not copy Valentino in on those emails.
Valentino said he did not again hear about the background check problem from Rudys until Aug. 19, the day Martinez resigned.
This conflicts with Rudys’ claim, made through her attorney on Saturday, that she told Valentino six times that the check was not done. She sent a letter to the board specifying on what dates she said she informed Valentino that Martinez had not cooperated with a background check.
Valentino, in a memo to the APS Board of Education titled “Timeline,” lists meetings with Rudys on July 2, Aug. 5 and Aug. 12, noting next to each that there was “no mention is made of Mr. Martinez.”
He said he met with her on those days but she did not bring up the background check issue.
Valentino said he feels district policy should require that background checks be done before employees start work and that the handling of background checks could use improvement.
On Monday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he would investigate how Martinez made it through APS’ system, and Valentino said he welcomes the process.
“I think the attorney general’s approach will be helpful because it highlights a problem that is systemic,” Valentino said.
He did acknowledge that he had not checked Martinez’s references before offering him the deputy superintendent position, saying he had heard good things about him from colleagues over the years.
The two men have not communicated since Martinez resigned, according to Valentino, and Martinez did not go to work for a number of days before that.
Valentino said Martinez told him he couldn’t make it to work because he was helping his 15-year-old son, who has special needs.
Although parents have expressed concern about their children’s safety around Martinez, Valentino said he was on the grounds of an APS school only once, for a celebration. And Valentino said he was with Martinez at the school.
The superintendent described himself as shocked at the allegations against Martinez, and that he knew little of Martinez’s private life.
Responding to what occurred at APS, Gov. Martinez said Tuesday that she was instructing the Public Education Department and the Department of Safety to undertake an immediate review of background check policies for each school district in the state.
“Jason Martinez should have never been hired at Albuquerque Public Schools; he has no business being around children,” the governor said in a statement. “APS dropped the ball, and it’s completely unacceptable.”