Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016 | 2 a.m.
A Clark County School Board member suddenly banned from visiting schools. A letter of concern quietly sent to state education officials. A mysterious plan for the school board to hire an outside “agent.”
What is the common thread? The contentious reorganization of the Clark County School District and a rapidly escalating internal battle between those who support it and those who oppose it.
The reorganization will inevitably diminish the stewardship of the seven trustees elected to oversee the country’s fifth-largest school district in favor of giving more power to individual schools, dramatically changing how education policy is shaped in Clark County.
Conflict has been simmering for months, and it could intensify today and Thursday as the board debates a proposal that some have described as a last-minute power grab.
The item calls for a discussion about appointing an agent to serve as the school board’s official representative when it comes to the reorganization. But the board already has that person: Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who has been intimately involved in the process since the reorganization was approved by the Legislature last year.
The proposal itself has proven a mystery. Rumors about what it might mean for the school district circulated among education officials attending UNLV’s annual Education Summit on Monday.
At a board retreat last week, Trustee Carolyn Edwards expressed confusion as to why it was even on the agenda. It only became clear on Tuesday, when Trustee Chris Garvey said in an interview that she was the one who put the proposal on the agenda.
Garvey is among a contingent of trustees, parents, education advocates and others who feel that the process has been ramrodded along an unrealistic timeline by state Sen. Michael Roberson and other reorganization supporters. But her unorthodox attempt to tap the brakes comes at a time when the implementation process is already in motion, with a number of schools aiming to finish up council elections before winter break.
“When Pat was brought on as superintendent, nobody had any clue that something like [the reorganization] would have happened,” Garvey said of the added pressure and demands on Skorkowsky’s time and energy. “We’re at that point now where we can’t keep pushing forward when we know there are issues we need to look at.”
It’s not a new complaint. Trustees have long argued that the reorganization process has been moving too fast in order to meet the deadline of next school year. The criticisms largely fell on deaf ears, but the board nonetheless made the concerns official in a letter sent to state education officials last month.
The letter, which includes the board’s opinion that the funding structure of the reorganization could have legal consequences when it comes to civil rights, was sent to the Nevada Department of Education on Nov. 9, a day after Donald Trump was elected president. State Superintendent Steve Canavero and other officials have yet to respond — another source of frustration for some trustees.
“They never answered us back on anything,” Garvey said. “These are legitimate concerns about civil rights.”
A department spokesperson said that as of Tuesday, no action had been taken on the letter.
Some supporters of reorganization have been dismissive about Garvey’s proposal.
“This amounts to a coup among some of the trustees,” said Clark County teachers union director John Vellardita, who emerged as a major proponent of reorganization after a bitter struggle with the district and school board to negotiate a new teacher contract.
Vellardita — who this week called for the resignation of embattled Trustee Kevin Child, a vociferous reorganization opponent — called the proposal a “self-serving” plot.
“Chris Garvey and Kevin Child are joined at the hip in their opposition to AB394,” he said. “The reorganization is a transfer of authority that challenges the trustees' control.”
Skorkowsky, who has remained relatively quiet about the issue this week, said in a statement that Garvey’s proposal would “severely hinder the implementation of AB394 and it would also be a breach of my contract with the district.”
That statement was substantiated in an outside review by two lawyers from Snell & Wilmer, who said in a memo sent to the board on Saturday that “the Agenda Item is an obvious pretext to thwart the implementation of the [AB394] Statutes, which the Board seemingly disagrees with.”
Still, the board will discuss the issue twice this week, once today at a morning work session and again at a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday evening.
It’s unclear whether any action will be taken to appoint a new representative. Garvey insists the agenda item is meant simply to restart conversation about the process.
“It’s just a discussion with the board to see what kind of support we can look at for Pat,” she said. “It’s more work than any one person can handle.”