Two fathers are leading an effort to recall nearly all the members of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, saying they are incensed about APS’ settlement terms with outgoing Superintendent Luis Valentino, who stepped down Monday.
Jacob Gil and Van Overton said they are driven by anger at the roughly $100,000 payout and positive reference letter Valentino got from the board as terms of his resignation.
They want to replace the entire APS board except for District 5’s Steven Michael Quezada, who has been the most vocal critic of Valentino. “There have to be consequences,” said Gil, a father of four who also launched a change.org petition seeking Valentino’s ouster a few weeks ago. “Try to explain that (settlement) to someone who is living paycheck to paycheck. … This is parents of APS students pushing back.”
Gil got the process started Tuesday, going to the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Bureau of Elections Office to fill out paperwork initiating recall petitions on six board members: Don Duran, Peggy Muller-Aragon, Lorenzo Garcia, David Peercy, Analee Maestas and Barbara Petersen.
To trigger a recall, Gil and Overton would have 110 days to get signatures from registered voters totaling at least 33.33 percent “of those who voted for the office at the last preceding election at which the office was voted upon,” according to the New Mexico Constitution.
School board elections have notoriously low voter turnout – the recall would require only around 200 signatures from Maestas’ district up to around 1,200 for Peercy’s and Duran’s.
Though Gil and Overton are committed to the recall effort, they face a number of steps to get the petitions into the hands of other concerned citizens.
According to Rebecca Martinez, Bureau of Elections administrator, her office has five days to forward the petition paperwork to District Court, which then has 10 days to hold a hearing to “substantiate the reason for the petition to be held.”
The law outlines three grounds for a board member’s recall: “malfeasance or misfeasance in office or violation of the oath of office.”
To meet this requirement, Gil is citing the procedure surrounding a board executive session held Thursday to discuss Valentino’s fate.
A number of community members and reporters arrived for the 7 a.m. meeting early but were directed by security to wait in the APS lobby. The board voted to enter the closed session without any of them being told they could go back to the meeting room, a possible violation of the open meeting law, which requires a public vote to enter a closed session.
But APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said the meeting was open to the public at 7 a.m. and he attended himself.
Chavez said the APS police chief said that those who were left outside had misunderstood the security officer, who was simply pointing out a place to wait.
Even if the recall petition isn’t ultimately approved, Gil said he will have felt he put the board “on notice.”
To have the best shot at getting through the legal hurdles, he plans to set up an online fundraiser to collect money for legal fees. He has not settled on the amount he is seeking, though he stressed that any donation only will go to legal bills that he will substantiate with receipts.
“The last thing I want is for a mother who donates $5 to regret sending that or wonder what happened to it,” he said.
Overton agreed it is time for strong action.
The father of two said many other parents are with him, offering to help pass out petitions.
“I think the board has been unchecked for too long,” he said. “My district has an amazing amount of potential, but we are forgetting what it is all about. The politics needs to take a backseat.”
Quezada, the lone board member Gil and Overton support, knew of the recall effort and said it is their right, but questioned the premise behind it.
While he is not happy with the settlement, he feels it is better than facing a lawsuit from Valentino that could have resulted in a full contract buyout worth $720,000.
“I think taxpayers need to know that the other alternatives were worse,” he said.
Quezada also doesn’t put much credence in the board’s letter of support, which he described as an act of goodwill that is hardly “worth the paper it’s printed on.”
“What good is it when you Google someone?” he asked.
Gil, Overton and their supporters have valid concerns, Quezada said, but board members did their best to get a good settlement and did due diligence in hiring Valentino, a process that involved community input.
“Nobody could have foreseen this,” he said. “I couldn’t write a script about this. People would say, ‘We need something more realistic.’ ”
Quezada said he hopes to move forward from the scandals and focus on important educational issues like providing new schools and class materials.
Valentino’s problems centered on former Deputy Superintendent Jason Martinez and Chief Financial Officer Don Moya. Martinez resigned Aug. 18 shortly before it came to light that he is facing assault and child sex assault charges in Denver. Despite starting his APS job July 1, he never completed a mandatory criminal background check.
Moya has been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 7, the same day Valentino accidentally texted him that he was going to “go after” him for running “roughshot.” The superintendent had been trying to reach Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera.
Emails leaked to the media show that Moya and Martinez had argued over email Aug. 6 about a request for proposal that Moya didn’t support.
APS officials said Tuesday they could not comment on Moya’s job status, saying it was a personnel matter.
Moya’s attorney, Kate Ferlic, said she has not heard from APS and that Moya is proceeding with a whistleblower protection lawsuit against Valentino, the board and Skandera.
“I think the actions of the board speak for themselves,” she said of Valentino’s resignation. “It has been very interesting, let’s put it that way.”
The APS board met in closed session three times over the past nine days to discuss Valentino’s fate, logging about 12 hours behind closed doors. Members voted unanimously to accept his resignation Monday.