Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2019

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Special ed audit may go to state, feds

Under attack by Clark County School District officials, the authors of the special education audit may take their findings to federal and state agencies.

Consultants Ed Sontag and David Rostetter, locked in an increasingly contentious dispute over the critical report, are now battling over the district's failure to pay their bill.

School Board members on Tuesday delayed paying the consultant's current bill of $23,500 and fees of up to $1,100 to attend tonight's meeting.

After being informed that the audit has gone over budget, trustees voted to only pay travel, housing and food expenses for the consultants.

Sontag and Rostetter said they are prepared to defend their work at tonight's board meeting, but that they may not attend tonight's meeting in protest of the the payment delay.

"We are considering the failure to pay as a termination of our relationship with the school district," Rostetter said.

He said they may take their full report to federal and state authorities, "including the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Education, the attorney general and the Nevada Bar."

The unedited version contains detailed allegations of violations of law by district employees.

"We're telling the truth," Rostetter said. "We lay out data that directly confronts the competency and ethics of management that are running the district, and the response has been to circle the wagons, call in the chips, and assign staff for hours and hours to call all over the country and ask questions about us, because people's jobs are on the line here."

Some School Board members and administrators claim that numbers used in the audit to show fiscal mismanagement and per-pupil spending don't add up.

Superintendent Brian Cram said at tonight's meeting district staff will prove those charges to be true.

"I don't mean in a confrontational manner," Cram said. I" mean we're going to say, 'We don't get this, it looks like these things are not the same. So if your conclusion is based on these facts, how did we reach that conclusion?'"

The report by Rostetter and fellow consultant Ed Sontag identified $1.2 million in wasted spending in the special education division.

"Of course they're going to challenge our data," Rostetter said. "The numbers provided to us by the district have changed many times during the audit. I'm going to stick by my data."

Rostetter and Sontag charge that efforts were made by the district to "tone down" the contents of their report, and that they have been victims of conflicting instructions as to what should be included in the report.

Sontag said he and Georgia attorney Charlie Weatherly conducted a conference call with school district attorney Donna Mendoza Mitchell.

"She suggested there's not enough meat here, it's not tough enough, in areas of cost savings and documentations of violations of the law," Sontag said.

In response to Mitchell's comments, Sontag said they added more details in those areas to the report.

He said Weatherly, who also has had a contract with the district, then met with Cram, who Sontag said objected to the added details, specifically in the area of violations of the law.

"Once you put a violation of law on paper, you can't take it out," Sontag said.

"We subsequently agreed to tone it down, with the sense that Brian would make changes," Sontag said. "In naivete, we did believe (the changes) would happen, because he came to us in good will and he wanted a plan of action."

Cram denies trying to control the report.

"The only discussion I've had on any topic like that was to make sure the board was in compliance with Nevada Revised Statutes in terms of how you deal with personnel items, and also any items that may directly bear on ongoing legal suits that we had."

CCSD officials and board members now are angry that the audit is vague and lacks details. Trustees say they cannot take action on items because they are too vaguely referenced, and plan to carefully question the auditors at tonight's board meeting.

Sontag responded, "They have not given us one single suggestion as to where they want more details. Never has there been one request. I take great umbrage of the new rhetoric of not enough detail."

Cram countered, "We have sent them at least two letters recently, I would say within the last 30 days, asking them if they would provide the backup material or something that would indicate their thinking in arriving at these decisions. We've received nothing from them."

The consultants said the district has no one to blame but itself for any perceived gaps in the report.

Rostetter alleged that the administration's first response to the audit was to "ferret out the internal sources of the information, not to fix the problems."

One of the ongoing problems, Sontag said, involves services to special ed students in rural areas such as Indian Springs and Moapa Valley. He said the district is misleading the public by claiming that the shortcomings have been solved.

"The problems have not been taken care of as of a few weeks ago. It's almost ludicrous for them to say that they have."

Sontag and Rostetter also criticized the district's deletion of 15 paragraphs from the report.

"Not only did they take out paragraphs from the report, but they left in the apendices referencing the paragraphs," Sontag said.

Cram said the School Board chose to delete the 15 paragraphs from the report's initial release on the advice of legal counsel.

"The board was frustrated by it, I was frustrated by it, but we had three attorneys virtually saying the same thing," Cram said.

He said legal counsel has cleared the remaining paragraphs for public release, which will be done sometime today.

Meantime, Cram said he was "very concerned that we have spent this much money, and we still have this many unanswered questions."