Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Everybody knew there would be fireworks in the politically charged process of reorganizing the Clark County School District, but few might have predicted where the first battle would take place: the small rural community of Moapa Valley.
That’s what happened last Friday, when, days after a Moapa Valley community education board presented its plan for greater autonomy from CCSD, residents accused a School Board trustee of trying to strong-arm the group into backing down.
Trustee Chris Garvey, who represents Moapa Valley, drove 60 miles northeast to the rural community to inform members of the local Community Education Advisory Board that the group technically hadn’t existed for more than 14 years.
According to a video recording of the morning meeting, Garvey said school board trustees voted in September 2001 to throw out the district’s operating policy for community education boards but forgot to replace it, meaning CEABs like the one in Moapa Valley should technically have been dissolved.
“It was surprising to me too,” Garvey told the group. “Somehow this got lost in the shuffle and never was established back in policy.”
Garvey said she brought the concern to the board because she just wanted to make sure everyone was following the rules.
CEABs were created by the School Board to allow schools with active groups of parents to meet and discuss issues relevant to their community. If they wanted, the CEABs could bring concerns directly to the School Board itself. The boards used to be common throughout the county, though they have gradually diminished over time. There are currently only two CEABs in existence, one in Moapa Valley and the other in Mesquite.
Board members and local residents were still confused as to why the School Board had waited over a decade to point out the 2001 action. District officials regularly travel to the community to participate in the meetings, and nobody gave the community notice that the policy was changed.
The news particularly outraged those who had just days before presented a plan to gain autonomy from CCSD before a state committee. The Legislature’s passage of AB394 earlier this year tasked a pair of committees with figuring out whether CCSD could be reorganized to give greater control over schools to local communities.
Lindsey Dalley, a longtime resident and board member who presented the plan, said he felt the sudden announcement was a sneaky way at revenge by the district. It was also the conclusion reached by the local newspaper, the Moapa Valley Progress, which wrote its own account of the incident.
The meeting also was attended by Republican Assemblymen David Gardner, Stephen Silberkraus and James Oscarson, who expressed their support for the community.
“I just feel there is an intimidation factor here,” Dalley said. “I think that it’s bad policy for you to come out and throw this out there.”
Garvey said she was more than willing to submit an agenda item reaffirming the existence of CEABs at the next school board meeting, but it wasn’t much consolation to some residents.
“I think it was unfortunate how it came down,” said Bryan Mortensen, a local parent who attended the meeting. “I think they could have given a heads up. It wouldn’t have been so explosive if they had.”
The board, which operates under Open Meeting Law, was set on Friday to discuss its recent presentation to the state committee as well as a number of other, unrelated issues. But, because of the news, some wondered whether they were even legally able to do so.
“I would suggest that at this point, this meeting be adjourned,” said Larry Moses, a local resident who authored the community’s plan to regain control over its schools. “You have no authority, there’s no point for you to listen to anybody.”
In the end, the board decided to act as though nothing had changed because they had never been given official notice of the policy change.
Garvey stridently denied the accusation that her actions were part of the district pushing back against the community.
“That was not the intention and never has been,” Garvey said. “I don’t think there’s a question about whether the community can voice their opinions … [It was about] if you’re making decisions, you should be coming back to the school board to let us know.”
Even if the board were dissolved, it likely wouldn’t change much about the community’s desire to get out from under the thumb of CCSD. Residents could easily organize under another community board and continue their activism.
Ironically, community education boards form one of the core concepts of Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky’s plan to revamp the district. At the outset of the process, he proposed a reorganization of CCSD that would form a local committee for each trustee district made up of parents and school staff.
But where does Garvey stand with her constituents, the frequently outspoken people of Moapa Valley?
“Well, at the end of the meeting there were still hugs and handing out pomegranates,” Garvey said. “They’re still giving me pomegranates and not throwing them at me.”