Monday night, the Board of Trustees for the Clark County School District held a special, hastily called board meeting with two agenda items: hiring a consultant for the board, and hiring an attorney for the board.
It took 3 and a half hours to get through those two items.
So, what happened?
The meeting was incredibly contentious. The discussion for most of the night centered around whether or not the trustees should even be having the meeting. Ultimately the answer was no, as the board voted to postpone voting on both questions until January.
This is a meeting that was not on the regular schedule. Why have it?
On the surface, the meeting was about what the Board of Trustees should do about AB394. That's the law that the State Legislature put in place in 2015 reorganizing the Clark County School District. The Trustees have felt pushed out of the process. And, in fact, the process was accelerated from two years to one.
Mike Strembitzky, the consulatant hired to write the Empowerment School Plan, said pretty plainly at a legislative committee meeting in August that he wanted to hurry the timeline so he could avoid opposition. School board members who were present at that meeting expressed outrage at that statement, but there emerged no immediate action from the Trustees.
Last night, Trustee Carolyn Edwards pointed that out. She also pointed out that the board had put reorganization on its agenda in March. The board decided to take no action on that agenda item at that time.
OK, why now?
Insiders say that the real issue is the board trying to assert control over Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky. The idea of hiring outside legal counsel and an outside consultant dedicated exclusively to the board came up in the regular school board meeting on Dec. 8. Skorkowsky got very angry, and asserted that this was a violation of his contract.
Superintendent Skorkowsky is out of town, and couldn't be reached before last night's meeting.
And it was Skorkowsky's unavailability that was at the heart of the anger last night. Three trustees - Deanna Wright, Carolyn Edwards and Erin Cranor - asserted that the meeting was an end run around the superintendant. In fact, Edwards and Cranor themselves were out of town and had to participate by phone.
Was this an end run?
You have to remember that Trustee Patrice Tew is a lame duck. She was defeated in November by Lola Brooks, who was at last night's meeting, but obviously couldn't participate because her term doesn't start until January. Deanna Wright asserted pretty plainly that throwing in an extra meeting in December was designed to capitalize on Tew's presence. She said, "Sad to say, this has the feel of urgency because you need Patrice's vote." That engendered a lot of applause from the 100-150 people who were in attendance, and agreement from Trustee Edwards, who was on the phone.
And, Trustee Edwards had the quote of the night. She said: "We are no longer trusted leaders… and right now I don’t trust half my board.”
Who is the consultant and attorney?
They don’t have an attorney chosen. I’ve been told that the board has been told they need another attorney dedicated just to them for a long time. Right now, an assistant district attorney handles their case load, and it's a lot of work.
The consultant the school board wants to use is Jan Jones Blackhurst, who is a KNPR board member. She’s also, of course, the former mayor of Las Vegas and she is a vice president for Caesars Entertainment. AND it’s Caesars who would be paying for Jones to be a consultant. Her help is described as an in-kind gift.
Jones was on the phone last night – she, too, was out of town. Ultimately, she decided not to wade into the controversy or whether to hold the meeting with a lame-duck member, saying that whatever the Trustees decided tonight would be fine
What Jones' role as a consultant will be is not clear. Board President Linda Young said last night that their intention was not to derail AB394, but to have a voice in it. She noted that the board has sent letters of objection throughout the process, and "each letter of our concerns have been rejected. Each one."
It's unclear, though, what the school board can do at this late date. The Empowerment Plan is in action, with principals and teachers and parents forming school committees and getting leadership training. The plan will go into place in September.
So, ultimately what happened?
What happened is that there was a motion to postpone dealing with the questions until January. Three voted for the motion. Three voted against it. Trustee Tew – the person at the middle of the storm – voted for the motion. She seemed to agree that the decision was best left to the person who will take her place in January. This engendered a lot of laudatory public comment, from people saying this was a classy move.
Two of the people in the audience at the meeting were Mike Roberson and Aaron Ford. They are, of course, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties in the state. They are both on the legislative committee overseeing the reorganization, and one wonders what they took away from both the meeting and Trustee Tew’s decision.
Bottom line, though, is that the school board held a meeting on whether or not they should be holding a meeting. It lasted 3 and half hours. And finally the answer was no.
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