WISD board won’t 'rush to any judgement’ after superintendent’s arrest

Marcus Nelson. (Jail photo)
Marcus Nelson. (Jail photo)(KWTX)
Published: Mar. 7, 2019 at 6:39 PM CST
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The Waco School Board will “not rush to any judgment” after WISD Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson was arrested on a misdemeanor marijuana charge, board President Pat Atkins said in an interview Friday.

Nelson was booked into the Robertson County Jail just before 11 p.m. Wednesday and charged with possession of marijuana less than 2 ounces.

He was released 12 hours later, apparently on his own recognizance, according to online records.

“We are early in the process and they are just allegations, but they’re serious allegations,” Atkins said Friday.

“It’s something where the board needs to make sure that we send a message to the community that when you violate the law there are consequences and we need to determine what the consequences will be in this case,” he said.

“I think you can expect this board to be very deliberate and very thoughtful, not rush to any judgment but evaluate all the information that we have available to us and then in the end make some decisions that are truly based on what’s best for the district and for the students in this community,” Atkins said.

Nelson was arrested by a Department of Public Safety trooper Wednesday night.

According to DPS spokesman Trooper Jimmy Morgan, a trooper working regular patrol spotted a 2007 GMC Yukon traveling north on U.S. 190 south of Hearne.

The vehicle was in the left lane and not passing, Morgan said, and was pulled over.

"During the stop, the trooper smelled marijuana and conducted a search of the vehicle," said Morgan.

The trooper found marijuana, seized it, and took the subject into custody, Morgan said.

Nelson was not at work Thursday, according to a source close to the situation, and a district spokesman said Nelson was taking a personal day Friday, but was not on leave.

“We talked yesterday and we agreed he take a personal day off today and then we have spring break next week and then we’ll meet right after spring break and talk about where we’re going with this moving forward,” Atkins said Friday.

The board will call a special meeting on March 19 in order to hear directly from Nelson, Atkins said Thursday night.

Under the Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics, to which all district employees are required to adhere, educators “shall refrain from the illegal use or distribution of controlled substances and/or abuse of prescription drugs and toxic inhalants,” the district’s employee handbook says.

Nelson has a five-year contract under the terms of which he’s paid $272,000 annually and receives insurance and retirement benefits as well as travel expenses and a $500-a-month automobile allowance.

The contract specifies that the school board may suspend or terminate Nelson for “good cause,” including “illegal use of drugs, hallucinogens or other substances regulated by the Texas Controlled Substances Act.”

“In terms of what is specifically in his contract or the guidelines we are so early in the process we haven’t had time to go back and review that but that’s something that the board will obviously be looking at on the 19th,” Atkins said Friday.

The Waco School Board voted unanimously in April 2017 to name Nelson as the lone finalist to replace retiring Superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain.

“Dr. Nelson is a dynamic leader who has done great things in really unifying this community and bringing unprecedented levels of volunteerism and support for the Waco public schools,” Atkins said Friday.

“So when you hear your superintendent has been arrested on these sorts of allegations you know, it’s always shocking if they turn out to be true, it’s disappointing.”

The father of two had been Laredo ISD’s superintendent since 2009, and in 2014 he was named Superintendent of the Year by the Texas Association of School Boards.

Nelson was one of six potential candidates with whom school board members completed interviews on March 30, 2017.

Executive Search Services, the group the Waco ISD hired to manage the search for a replacement, received 59 applications for the position before the application deadline.

As of October, the district had close to 14,760 students enrolled.