Ed Moreno mug.jpg

Ed Moreno is no longer the Hillsboro R-3 School District’s activities director, after several weeks of mystery about his absence from his duties.

He is now a teacher at the Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center in Hillsboro, where he is expected to remain until the end of the school year, when he has agreed to resign and retire.

Moreno, who was placed on paid leave Jan. 7, had been the R-3 activities director and assistant principal for students in grades seven through 12 for the past 11 years.

In a wide-ranging interview on Feb. 15, Moreno said the district administration had treated him unfairly, after he confided about personal issues that had made life difficult for him.

“I am proud I did what I did (telling his version of events), and I’m not ashamed of it or afraid to talk about it,” Moreno said. “It’s important for anyone who reads this, and they’re struggling, that they get the help they need.

“I feel like the administration has taken steps to discredit me for something that’s untrue.”

Hillsboro R-3 Superintendent Jon Isaacson provided some documents and other information for this story, but he said he could not comment on Moreno’s account of incidents that led to his departure, because it is a personnel matter.

On Feb. 18, the Hillsboro Board of Education voted 5-0 to accept Moreno’s request to be transferred to the detention center, which is within the school district’s boundaries and typically is staffed with an R-3 teacher, Isaacson said.

Board members John Schuessler and Jane Heine were absent for the vote.

Moreno’s transfer took effect Feb. 3, and his last day with the district is scheduled for May 27, unless the district has more snow days and has to extend the school year, Isaacson said.

The school board also agreed Feb. 18 to hire retired Hillsboro Junior High administrator Terry Edwards to serve as the substitute activities director and assistant principal for the rest of the school year. Edwards, who retired in 2008 after 12 years as an administrator with the junior high, will be paid $200 a day, which is the rate the district pays a substitute administrator, according to a Feb. 19 written statement from the district.

Moreno, 42, of Hillsboro signed a separation agreement with the school district on Feb. 7 that outlines his transfer and pay until his retirement.

According to the agreement, Moreno will be paid $22,620 for the remaining 70 days of the school year, which is a pro-rated amount based on the salary an R-3 teacher with a master’s degree and 30 years’ experience is paid, which is $59,136 a year. As activities director and assistant principal, he was being paid a $95,173.88 annual salary, Isaacson said.

Moreno says he was

pushed out

Moreno said the R-3 administration had been trying to oust him from his job ever since he had a meeting with and confided in Isaacson, Hillsboro High Principal Cathy Freeman and Assistant Superintendent Melissa Hildebrand about a leave of absence he took last spring to deal with emotional issues following the death of his brother in 2015 and his mother being diagnosed with cancer that led to her death last year.

“That was one of the worst meetings I’ve had in my life,” Moreno said. “I listened to them tell me how bad I was doing my job leading up to my leave of absence. A few days later I told them I was grateful for their help and was told I couldn’t be trusted.”

Moreno said he plans to attend the R-3 school board meeting tonight (Feb. 27) and sign up to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting to “set the record straight.”

He said he received a letter from Isaacson on Jan. 7 informing him he had been placed on leave for allegedly engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a woman who lives in the district. The letter also alleged Moreno took time off during the workday to pursue the relationship.

Moreno gave the Leader a copy of the letter, which is signed by Isaacson.

Moreno said the accusations in the letter are not true.

In a Monday interview, the woman he was accused of having the relationship with also denied the allegations. She said she and Moreno are longtime friends.

Moreno denies wrongdoing

On Jan. 7, before he got Isaacson’s letter, Moreno said he had informed Freeman and activities assistant Gayle Null that he was leaving campus that day to go to the Walmart store in De Soto to buy a piece of equipment for the music system for the high school’s two gyms and sandwiches for a teacher’s aide luncheon.

Moreno said he left the school around 10:30 a.m. and while he was at Walmart, received a phone call from the woman he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with. He said the woman was upset about a bill and asked him to come to her home.

“I told her I’d run by her house, and she said don’t come until 11:30 a.m.,” Moreno said. “I arrived then and left at 12:50.”

Moreno, who is married, said he has not been in a romantic relationship with the woman. He said he has known the woman and her family for years and is friends with them. He said the woman told him she was worried about finances, so he tried to console her and encouraged her to take care of herself.

Moreno’s account

After returning to school on Jan. 7, Moreno said he met with the high school’s maintenance director and a custodian and talked to them about school business.

“That ended about 2:15 p.m.,” Moreno said. “I noticed my internet was down. I didn’t think anything about it. I was heading to bus duty and saw Isaacson, Freeman and Hildebrand in an office and was told (Isaacson) wanted to talk to me. He asked me where I went (earlier that day). I told him I went to Walmart, McDonald’s and my house.”

Moreno said Isaacson told him someone had called the school to report that Moreno was at the woman’s house, so Isaacson, Freeman and Hildebrand drove to the house and took photos of Moreno’s car in the driveway.

“I told him I went to a parent’s home who reached out to me in need,” Moreno said. “He asked me why I lied the first time. He then told me I was on leave and there would be an investigation into the matter.”

Moreno said Isaacson asked him to turn over his school keys. Moreno also said his school email was shut down and access to other school resources were disabled.

Moreno said Isaacson told him he had violated the terms of his contract and Isaacson and the school board felt they could no longer work with him.

“At the end of the day, (Isaacson) said this was my fault and was the result of a poor choice,” Moreno said.

Moreno said after he was placed on leave, he was barred from being on school property or at any school-related function. He also said he was directed not to have any contact with anyone he believed may have made a complaint against him or served as a witness in the district’s investigation into the allegations against him.

On Jan. 16, Moreno said, the district sent him a letter, which he also provided to the Leader, stating he had violated school policies regarding staff conduct and staff absences and tardiness. The letter stated Moreno’s contract could be terminated and that his alleged violations constituted “cause” to be fired under state law.

Moreno said he felt he was being pushed out, so he asked to be transferred to the juvenile center for the rest of this school year and then resign and retire.

Isaacson provided the Leader with a copy of Moreno’s separation agreement with the district, which school board president Lisa Welker and board secretary Betsy Noack signed on Feb. 18.

His separation agreement with the district came just a couple of months after Isaacson wrote a letter of recommendation to the Missouri Interscholastic Athletic Administrator’s on behalf of Moreno, who was named the Southeast Region athletic director of the year in November. Isaacson said it’s customary to write such letters for administrators or student-athletes who win awards.

In the letter, Isaacson said, “Moreno is willing to step up to challenging situations and takes a proactive approach in leadership roles at school, state and national levels.

“As a representative of Hillsboro, Moreno has displayed leadership and interpersonal skills on a daily basis. Mr. Moreno strives to have authentic interactions with everyone he comes into contact with. Edward is very adept at working with many individuals on the myriad of issues that our students are dealing with. His caring and straightforward demeanor creates an environment in which the student feels comfortable in speaking with him.

“Edward is personable and energetic and brings a smile to the faces of those around him. He is deserving of the recognition he is receiving from the (MIAA).”

Kim Robertson provided some information for this story.