County superintendents react to background check review

Joshua Kellogg The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan County school superintendents welcome a review of its background check policies ordered by Gov. Susana Martinez Tuesday but shared concerns regarding the amount of work that will be required to comply.

Gov. Martinez ordered the New Mexico Public Education Department and New Mexico Department of Public Safety to conduct a review of background check policies for the 89 public school districts in the state. According to a press release from Martinez's office, the governor also requested a compliance review to make sure school districts are requiring personnel to receive timely criminal background checks.

It follows the case of former Albuquerque Public Schools deputy superintendent Jason Martinez, whose background check was never completed and faces felony child sexual assault charges in Colorado. All school district superintendents reached for this story said their background checks were being finished in a timely manner.

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said he's comfortable with the district's background check policies and the quality of people hired by the district.

"It's just sad that something happens in one place and as a result, a lot of work has to be done across the state," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said school districts have to submit their policies on background checks by Friday to the state education department.

Districts will also have to send paperwork by Monday, stating background checks have been completed on all district-level employees.

Carpenter said district-level employees include superintendents and department directors operating in the district's administrative offices.

By Sept. 16, districts have to submit paperwork stating they have completed background checks on all new employees.

The last required submission Carpenter mentioned was a report due on Sept. 25 about the number of district employees that did not have required background checks completed and the dates those background checks will be completed.

The Bloomfield School District just completed an personnel records audit by the state public safety department, according to Superintendent Kim Mizell.

Mizell said the audit was completed in May before she started as superintendent on July 1 and the district met all the requirements in the audit including background check policies.

"Anytime we have adults deal with children, we have to be diligent in what we are doing," Mizell said.

She said it might take some time to submit the records of all district employees, especially with the larger districts.

The Farmington Municipal School District started conducting an inquiry into its background check policies after news of Jason Martinez was announced, according to Superintendent Gene Schmidt.

"It's important that we know the people we hire are safe for children," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he felt the district's background check process was very thorough after going through it before being hired as superintendent earlier this year.

"I feel good at the end of the day about the experience myself. That Farmington Municipal Schools will be able to reassure the community that this is a practice we hold very dear," Schmidt said.

Central Consolidated School District officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.