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August 4, 2015

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Education:

School District on the hook to pay for conference the board didn’t know about

CCSD is investigating former principal of Sunrise Mountain High School

A former principal is under investigation and taxpayers are on the hook for up to $100,000 because a local high school failed to raise enough money to host a national conference for student councils.

In spring 2012, apparently unbeknownst to the Clark County School District leadership, Sunrise Mountain High School agreed to host the 2013 national conference for the National Association of Student Councils.

More than 900 student council advisers and members from across the country are expected to attend the leadership conference June 22-24.

To host the conference, Sunrise Mountain entered into a contract with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which oversees the student council program. The national principals organization agreed to fund about $78,500, and Sunrise Mountain agreed to raise money to cover the remaining $100,000.

Sunrise Mountain, and ultimately the School District, is responsible for costs associated with facility and classroom usage as well as meals and transportation for the students, according to the contract.

Until about a month ago, the School District's central office was unaware that Sunrise Mountain had promised to host the conference, spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said. The former principal and administration of Sunrise Mountain failed to notify the proper central office staff, she said.

The northeast valley school had a year to prepare for the conference. Now, the School District is scrambling to help Sunrise Mountain organize it — as well as find the money to host the event.

To honor Sunrise Mountain's contract, the School Board last week unanimously approved emergency funding of up to $100,000 from the district's general fund.

President Carolyn Edwards, visibly upset, said she expects the conference will end up costing the district no more than $50,000. The board approved double the projected cost to account for possible cost overruns.

"The way in which the agreement to host this organization was done in error," Edwards said Thursday. "As a trustee, that's unacceptable to me. It needs to never happen again.

Click to enlarge photo

Clark County School Board President Carolyn Edwards, left, and Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky answer questions from media.

"It's an expenditure that came about in all the wrong ways."

Newly appointed Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky acknowledged that district policy was not followed.

"We are investigating this situation," he said.

The School District is investigating John Barlow, the former principal of Sunrise Mountain High School.

In February, the School District announced Sunrise Mountain as its newest "turnaround" high school, targeted for an administrative and leadership overhaul because of its low test scores.

The district had been considering Sunrise Mountain for its turnaround program for several months, reviewing student data and conducting staff interviews since at least early December.

By mid-March, Barlow was reassigned from Sunrise Mountain principal to a position in the district's central office. Moapa Valley High School Principal Grant Hanevold became Sunrise Mountain's new principal.

Apparently during this turnaround and leadership transition, Barlow may have failed to notify the district about Sunrise Mountain's contract to host the conference.

"It's very likely (that is what happened)," said Fulkerson, who declined to name the former Sunrise Mountain principal because the investigation was a "personnel matter."

Barlow was not available for comment Friday.

Although School District leaders said they were not notified until about a month ago that one of its schools was hosting a national conference, many school districts across the country are aware that Las Vegas is hosting this year's event for student councils.

The National Association of School Councils has been actively promoting the Las Vegas conference on its website and social media accounts since at least September. More than 100 people on Facebook from across the country, including several Sunrise Mountain students and staff, have said they are attending the conference.

Schools regularly enter into contracts with outside entities, sometimes without district knowledge beforehand, Fulkerson said. In most cases, district policy is followed and the central office is notified of these contracts, she said.

Most recently, Foothill High School's marching band agreed to march in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Henderson school must raise about $500,000 over the next 18 months to send its marching band to New York City in November 2014.

Despite having less than a month to prepare for the conference, School District officials said they hope to uphold Sunrise Mountain's contract and ensure a successful event.

"We're going to show these kids a fantastic conference," Fulkerson said. "We're moving forward so we can pull it off in true Vegas style."

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