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July 23, 2014

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CCSD cabinet member demoted amid police probe of possible misuse of funds

Updated Tuesday, April 1, 2014 | 7:27 p.m.

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Pat Skorkowsky, Clark County School District superintendent, responds to a question during an editorial board meeting at the Las Vegas Sun Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky has demoted one of his four cabinet chiefs amid an ongoing police investigation into possible misuse of public funds in a Clark County School District department.

Chief Educational Opportunity Officer Andre Denson was demoted to associate superintendent this week, Chief of Staff and chief spokeswoman Kirsten Searer confirmed in an email today. As a result, Denson will no longer oversee the Education Services Division, which includes the Adult English Language Acquisition Services department.

Metro and CCSD Police are investigating the department for possible misuse of taxpayer dollars, specifically looking into technology purchases made through the department. Police served search warrants at two department offices, a residence and a business late last month.

As an associate superintendent, Denson will now focus all of his efforts on reducing the disproportionate number of black students who are suspended or expelled in Clark County schools, Searer said.

Searer said she could not comment on why Denson was demoted, citing confidential personnel matters. Searer also said she could not confirm or deny whether Denson's demotion is connected in any way to allegations of financial misconduct in the Adult English Language Acquisition Services department, which was one of several divisions and departments under Denson.

"The district doesn't comment on reasons for personnel changes," Searer said by phone Tuesday evening. "I can tell you that we have no reason to believe at this time that Dr. Denson is part of the police investigation."

Denson said Tuesday that his demotion has nothing to do with the probe, saying he hasn't been interviewed by police as part of the investigation. He said the department under investigation "fell under me but is four levels down. I supervise the supervisor of the supervisor of the supervisor."

"I support (Skorkowsky's) decision 120 percent," Denson said. "He wants me to do something totally different. I'm good with that."

Last August, Skorkowsky promoted Denson from associate superintendent to a new position he created — chief educational opportunity officer — to oversee diversity issues in the district. At the time, Denson received a $16,875 raise, earning an annual base salary of $149,984. Denson received a pay cut as a result of the demotion; his new salary is $127,296.

Denson’s former position has been abolished, Searer said. Oversight of Denson’s former divisions and departments will be split among another cabinet chief, a central administrator and a retired principal, she added.

Chief Student Achievement Officer Mike Barton will now oversee the Education Services Division, Instructional Support and Student Activities, formerly the responsibility of Denson.

Greta Peay, head of Equity and Diversity Education, was promoted to serve in Skorkowsky’s cabinet. Peay, who reported to Denson previously, will now report directly to Skorkowsky.

Skorkowsky also has asked Beverly Mathis to serve in his cabinet as “retired administrator on special assignment.” The former principal of Booker Elementary School and director and fellow at the Public Education Foundation will oversee the district’s nine “Prime Six” schools, which predominantly serve black students.

Skorkowsky will work over the coming months to determine the final structure of Denson’s former divisions and departments, Searer said.

During a news conference last week, Skorkowsky announced the AELAS’ operations had been suspended while police continue investigating.

The superintendent said he placed five employees — two department administrators and three support staff — on paid leave. The remaining 22 department employees were temporarily reassigned, Skorkowsky said.

Skorkowsky said the department would be reorganized, but assured the community that program services should resume this month.

The Adult English Language Acquisition Services department is funded by $1.09 million in state grants. It provides literacy and life skills classes to non-English-speaking parents of CCSD students. The program also provides free notary services, domestic violence referrals, GED referrals and continuing education referrals.

An investigation into the department began earlier this school year after an employee, who has not been identified, alerted Skorkowsky. No criminal charges have been filed.

Skorkowsky said last week he will not assume criminal activity occurred until Metro Police concludes its investigation, but said he would thoroughly review district procedures and adjust them if necessary.

He added he has a no-tolerance policy for district employees who use district resources for personal gain and violate the public’s trust.

“Any employee who misuses district funds or equipment will be disciplined, or if appropriate, referred to law enforcement,” Skorkowsky said in a statement.

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