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Valentino’s fate to be decided today

UPDATE: Journal education reporter Kim Burgess is tweeting live from the meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 27, 2015. Read the coverage

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education will meet this morning to determine the future of Superintendent Luis Valentino, but should the board decide to terminate him, it may not be a simple process.

A number of steps would be necessary to bring about Valentino’s firing, according to Marty Esquivel, an attorney and former APS board president.

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Luis Valentino, center, listens to Toni Cordova, chief of staff for APS, after meeting with Journal editors and reporters this week. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Luis Valentino, center, listens to Toni Cordova, chief of staff for APS, after meeting with Journal editors and reporters this week. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The superintendent’s resignation would be the easiest way through the process, wrapping everything up relatively quickly, but Valentino told KOAT-TV on Wednesday that he will not resign and is optimistic he won’t be fired after the 7 a.m. closed-door board meeting.

“I do not (intend to resign) because I still believe that the vision that I’m bringing forward is the right one,” he told KOAT. “I really believe that the board will allow me to continue doing that work, so it is not something that I am considering.”

The superintendent, who officially started in June, has a three-year contract with the district that does not define “just cause” for termination. That means the question of whether Valentino has committed offenses that justify termination would be determined by the School Personnel Act.

The act says that “just cause” means “a reason that is rationally related to an employee’s competence or turpitude or proper performance of the employee’s duties and that is not in violation of the employee’s civil or constitutional rights.”

Esquivel said the question becomes whether Valentino’s actions fit this definition.

“You could argue whatever they decide would either satisfy or not satisfy those words,” he said. “The issue the school board is going to have to face is whatever facts they have, does that really constitute just cause to terminate him?”

If he pushes for it, Valentino would be entitled to a due process hearing to be set within 30 days of a board decision to fire him. The hearing is meant to ensure that the action is appropriate and is an option when an administrator is facing any sort of discipline, including lessor steps like suspension.

It is not clear who would serve as hearing officer in the process, Esquivel said.

“That is where the negotiations can then turn into ‘are we going to proceed with this or is there a way we can negotiate him walking away?’ ” he said.

Buyout option

A contract buyout can be the result – something offered to former APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, who took $350,000 when he left APS in 2014.

Valentino’s salary is $240,000 a year, so a buyout could add up to $720,000.

If the hearing uphold’s Valentino’s firing, he could still sue for breach of contract. The suit would go to binding arbitration, which Valentino agreed to in his contract.

Had Valentino’s contract included specific language on just cause, a lawsuit would instead land in court, a much more expensive option that can take several years to conclude.

Esquivel summarized the termination process as “extremely complicated.”

At its core is a judgment of whether Valentino has acted so badly that he deserves a pink slip.

The controversies that have surrounded the superintendent’s short tenure have centered on two people: Chief Financial Officer Don Moya and former Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez.

Moya and Martinez clashed over email Aug. 6 about a possible request for proposal for a district information technology assessment, with Moya saying it was his prerogative to cancel the RFP.

On Aug. 7, Valentino tried to text New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera that he was going to “go after” Moya for running “roughshot,” but he accidentally sent the message to Moya himself. Moya was placed on paid administrative leave later that day.

Martinez left the district Aug. 19 shortly before revelations that he is facing child sex assault and assault charges in Denver.

Valentino had sought out Martinez for the deputy superintendent job and hired him without calling references based on a five-year relationship that started when the two men met through a professional association.

Martinez started work at APS on July 1 and never completed a background check that would have revealed his legal problems.

While Valentino said APS’ Human Resources Department only told him of the incomplete check twice, interim Superintendent of Human Resources Karen Rudys claims through her attorney that she notified him six times.

Valentino reaction

Though Valentino spoke out on the controversies in media interviews Tuesday and Wednesday, opinion of him still seems divided.

Terri Cole, head of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, was glad to hear Valentino’s side, saying he “did himself a lot of good” in talking candidly to the Journal on Tuesday.

“He needed to deal with these issues head on and with complete transparency,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “The Chamber appreciates his candor and encourages him to continue this level of transparency if the (APS) board decides to retain him.”

Retired APS teacher Linda Hale said her stance has not changed “one iota.”

The mother of two Sandia High School graduates hopes the board votes to terminate Valentino, saying he “showed no judgement,” particularly on his decision to hire Martinez.

“It’s the good-old-boy’s network – you hire your friends, but you don’t happen to know what your friends are up to,” she said. “He met the guy five years ago and didn’t really know much about him.”

Joy Garratt, instructional coach at Painted Sky Elementary, also feels Valentino fell short on Martinez’s hiring process.

Even if Valentino only heard about the background check twice, she said, he should have taken the initiative to contact HR himself and inquire about whether it was done.

Garratt describes herself as “indecisive” on Valentino, saying everyone makes mistakes.

A petition calling for the superintendent’s firing had collected just over 2,000 signatures by Wednesday evening. Jacob Gil, a father of four APS students who started the petition, said he is sending an updated version to board members each night.

UPDATE: Journal education reporter Kim Burgess is tweeting live from the meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 27, 2015. Read the coverage

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