- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he’s concerned that 15 percent of employees in the state’s largest school district don’t have background checks on file and wants the checks conducted as soon as possible.

Balderas wrote Wednesday in a letter to Albuquerque Public Schools, obtained by The Associated Press and the Albuquerque Journal, that district officials should work quickly to conduct background checks on 2,270 employees before the district’s May 2016 deadline.

In August, Balderas announced he would look into why Albuquerque Public Schools’ safety protocols were breached and former administrator Jason Martinez was hired before a background check was completed.

Martinez resigned abruptly after it surfaced he was facing sexual assault on a child charges in Colorado.

The 2,270 employees were hired before 1999, before background checks were required.

“Although you have articulated that these employees were hired when there was no background requirement in place, it is gravely concerning to me that any individual with whom students have contact has not been appropriately vetted,” Balderas wrote. “Further, I am concerned that the number of individuals without a background check on file initially reported to my staff was much higher than the actual number you are now reporting as accurate.”

Balderas said the inconsistency in numbers showed “weakness in safety controls.”

Acting Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Raquel Reedy said the district worked in collaboration with the attorney general’s office on the background audits and welcomed the recommendations.

“We will be reviewing the recommendations and working with the state Public Education Department and other state agencies to see that our policies and procedures, as well as the implementation of those policies in a timely manner, protect students to the best of our ability,” Reedy said in a statement.

Records show police arrested Martinez on July 18, 2013. Authorities allege Martinez assaulted a child who was in his care. Another alleged victim reported that Martinez sexually assaulted him while on a trip to Las Vegas.

In October, a judge declared a mistrial in the case against Martinez after Denver jurors announced they could not reach a verdict.

The scandal forced the superintendent at the time, Luis Valentino, to resign just weeks into his new job.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said she’s confident districts “will close the gap” on background checks in the near future since children’s safety is at risk.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras.

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