Friday, May 31, 2013 | 2 a.m.
At least one Clark County School Board member and Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky knew of Sunrise Mountain High School's plans to host a national conference that taxpayers are now being forced to bail out, the Sun has learned.
Last week, the School Board unanimously approved $100,000 in emergency money from the district's general fund to help Sunrise Mountain cover the cost of hosting 900 student council advisers and members for the National Association of Student Councils' leadership conference, June 22-24.
School District leaders pointed their fingers at Sunrise Mountain's former principal John Barlow, who was reassigned to a central office position after Sunrise Mountain became a "turnaround" school in March.
They said Barlow failed to adequately plan for the event, which was supposed to be funded by outside donations and fundraiser money.
They said Barlow also failed to notify the proper authorities until about a month ago that the school might not reach its fundraising goals.
The School District is now investigating what occurred.
However, at least two district leaders knew of Sunrise Mountain's commitment to host the national conference and apparently didn't monitor its preparations for the event, ultimately costing taxpayers up to $100,000. Sunrise Mountain's contract with the conference states the school is responsible for supplying food and transportation, which the school cannot provide without district resources.
School Board member Chris Garvey had known of Sunrise Mountain's plans to host the national conference since March 2012. Garvey signed Sunrise Mountain's application and a letter of support to host the conference.
"We, the undersigned, understand the school and personal commitments in hosting an NASC Conference as outlined in this packet and thereby submit this application," the line above the signature states.
According to the School Board's operating policies, applications and contracts between district schools and national organizations must be approved by a vote from the entire board — not just one member. That policy was not followed in this case, said School Board President Carolyn Edwards.
Garvey said in a text message that she could not comment on the current School District investigation. However, she said she signed the application and a letter of support for Sunrise Mountain because she “believes that student council is a wonderful leadership experience for our students.”
“Beyond the application for consideration and a letter of support, I was not aware of what occurred subsequently,” she said in the text.
Additionally, the district confirmed Skorkowsky, who was recently appointed as superintendent, had a phone conversation about the conference with the National Association of Student Councils in late March — more than a month before School District leadership was told proper planning and fundraising for the conference did not occur.
Skorkowsky did not divulge what his conversation with the national organization entailed. Calls to the National Association of Student Councils were not returned.
The School District, which is ultimately responsible for the actions of its 357 schools, attempted to disassociate itself from Sunrise Mountain High School this week. District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson argued that preparing for the conference was Sunrise Mountain’s responsibility, not the district’s.
"Being apprised of an event doesn't take the ownership and responsibility from the employee tasked with the event," Fulkerson said, adding that the employee being investigated "dropped the ball." "The board and superintendent are made aware of thousands of events happening in the district each school year. Notifying leadership (that) a conference is taking place is very different than informing anyone that there were no plans being made to execute the details or funding being done to cover costs of the event.
"No one knew we'd be on the hook for costs and planning until two weeks ago."
Pamela Barlow, the wife of the embattled former Sunrise Mountain principal, defended her husband. She said her husband was told by the district to not talk publicly about the ongoing investigation.
When former Superintendent Dwight Jones approached John Barlow with plans to put the "turnaround" model in place at his low-performing high school, he told Jones about the national conference, Pamela Barlow said. John Barlow allegedly asked Jones if he was sure he wanted to change leadership while the school was supposed to be preparing for the national conference.
Jones suddenly resigned from his position in late March. He could not be reached for comment.
"(The School District) is trying to throw him under the bus," Pamela Barlow said, referring to her husband. "They're trying to prove that there was reason why (Sunrise Mountain) needed the turnaround."
John Barlow, who has 24 years of experience teaching in the district, opened Sunrise Mountain High School. During his three years at its helm, "he worked his butt off to do everything he could for that school," Pamela Barlow said.
John Barlow helped organize the national student council conference previously, Pamela Barlow said, back in 2004, when it was at Silverado High School. John Barlow "had everything in place" for this year's conference, she added, although she said she didn't know how much money her husband had raised.
"He got no help from anyone at the School District (during his time as Sunrise Mountain principal)," Pamela Barlow said. "Now, they're throwing him under the bus because a paper wasn't filed.
"I'm tired he's taking the heat, because he really cares about his kids."