Waco school superintendent’s job in question after marijuana arrest

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Waco

The Waco school board on March 19 is expected to decide the future of A. Marcus Nelson, a former Texas school superintendent of the year, who was charged last week with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Nelson, 46, has been on paid leave since his arrest last Wednesday night; he will continue in that status through March 18, the day before the board’s special meeting about his future.

The Texas Education Agency was notified of Nelson’s arrest and has the option to do its own investigation. Agency spokeswoman Lauren Callahan told the Waco Tribune-Herald only that, “We’re aware of the situation in Waco.”

Nelson was booked and released at the Robertson County Jail staff late on March 6 after a trooper found marijuana in on the passenger seat of Nelson’s car. The trooper had stopped Nelson for driving in the passing lane on U.S. Highway 190 south of Hearne, about 85 miles northeast of Austin.

No court date has so far been set. If convicted, Nelson could face as much as 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000.

School board President Pat Atkins told the Tribune-Herald, “I don’t expect the board to make a rush to judgment. What I would expect is the board will gather all the information we can. We will give that information very thoughtful and deliberate consideration, and then we’ll make some decision based on what’s best for the district and the students.”

Atkins said the board would be weighing Nelson’s responsibility as a dynamic leader for students in the Waco district against his record “dynamic leader” in the district and the community.

The board thought enough of Nelson early last year to extend his five-year contract — for $272,000 a year and benefits — by an extra year, even though he had only been on the job for about six months. ’

“I really do appreciate the sense of team you’ve created among your cabinet. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your continuous effort at community outreach,” Atkins told Nelson prior to the contract extension vote in January 2018.

A criminal background check of Nelson by The Texas Monitor revealed no prior misdemeanor or felony charges against him.

The Texas Association of School Boards named Nelson superintendent of the year in 2014 when he was overseeing the Laredo school district. The association noted Nelson’s aggressive work in improving curriculum; his relationship with students, parents and administrators; and a commitment to community outreach.

Last April, Nelson was credited with brokering a contract with the nonprofit consortium Prosper Waco in an attempt to save five failing elementary and middle schools in the district. Prosper Waco is a project of leading public and private institutions committed to solving problems of education, financial security and health care in the Waco area.

The three-year arrangement that Nelson put together prompted the TEA to back away for two years from any state intervention, while the partnership attempts to improve test scores in those schools.

Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].

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