Commentary

State Board of Ed threatens CCSD with receivership: What might that mean?

March 22, 2022 5:00 am

(Photo by U.S. Department of Education)

On March 14 the AB469 subcommittee for the Nevada State Board of Education met to discuss the authority the state has to put the Clark County School District into receivership for not implementing the reorganization law, which was passed in 2017.

There’s been a lot of speculation on what this means. The district, of course, denies that State Superintendent Jhone Ebert has the authority to send someone in to take over the implementation of AB469.

The AB469 subcommittee thinks she does. Former deputy superintendent, Felicia Gonzales – who has come back to the Department of Ed in an advisory capacity – laid out the powers the reorg law gives the state superintendent. They include:

  1. Issuing a directive of non-compliance
  2. Appointing a “distinguished educator” to go into a non-compliant district to consult with them and get them on track
  3. Appointing a receiver (likely the same person as above) to go in and fix the problems, if the district can’t or won’t fix them while that person is consulting

Here’s the rub: these powers only extend over AB469 – or 388G, if you’re into reading the Nevada Revised Statutes. Jhone Ebert, as far as I can tell, does not have the power to take over the entire district. There is no law in Nevada, except AB469, that gives that kind of power to the state superintendent – or anyone else.

But AB469 is different because at the time it was passed, then Gov. Brian Sandoval didn’t trust CCSD to implement the law. In fact, the CCSD Trustees sued the state in the spring 2017 to keep the law from going into effect.

But, for all of you who were hoping that receivership meant that Ebert could do what the CCSD Board of Trustees have been unable to do – fire a staggeringly incompetent superintendent – then I’m sorry to disappoint. 

However, there’s an interesting twist to the powers Ebert DOES have. AB469 is a pretty sweeping law. It has tentacles that reach into almost every aspect of the district. In order to comply, the district will have to – sometimes drastically – change the way it does things. And if it gets to the point where the district does not make these changes under the tutelage of the “distinguished educator” consultant, and the state has to take control, Jara and CFO Jason Goudie will likely be rendered mostly moot.

Let’s look at the most obvious parts of the district affected by this.

Financial

The financial piece is the one of the biggest non-compliant pieces. And it has the most tentacles. 

Contracts and Purchasing

AB469 mandates that schools and their organizational teams (SOTs) must decide how to spend their budgeted money. They can get any service they think they need. They can “buy” that service from the district – and the budget is then supposed to reflect a “payment” to the district – or they can contract outside the district. There are some services they “must buy” from the district. You can see those here

In the first couple of years of implementation, principals and their SOTs had authority to contract with, say Data Insight Partners or a suicide prevention program at their discretion. They also had the autonomy to spend their budgets on, say, buying lots of Chromebooks and investing in IT training, or buying a certain kind of curriculum they thought was best for their student population. 

Jara put a stop to that.

Now, says Green Valley High School principal Kent Roberts, if they want to buy a new custodial cart, they have to get permission from the district. And that can take a long time. He notes that “the amount of micromanaging we have in the district far surpasses the amount we had before AB469.”

Another principal, who did not want to use their name, notes that the wait times for the district to approve items for purchase can be frustrating. “I can get a laptop cheaper at Best Buy, but I have to go through the district process and pay more.” If this principal uses their school credit card, they get “a threatening email to take the card away from the school because what I’ve bought is part of a bidding process.”

In other words, Jara and his team contract with a company to provide computers, and principals have no autonomy to choose their own. This is in violation of AB469.

A receiver would have to untangle that, then void all district contracts that require all schools to purchase or use something. That’s not only a laptop. It’s also curriculum. In the last two years, Jara has mandated math and science curriculum, and I’m told next year he will mandate a one size fits all curriculum in English.

One size fits all is exactly what AB469 was designed to avoid.

But let’s pull the strings on these tentacles. If the receiver voids the one size fits all curriculum, or the computer distribution contract, then the curriculum and equipment people have to change what they’re doing, and figure out how to “market” their products to schools.

This is a financial issue that affects so many other departments.

I get the argument that this is not efficient. These are the same arguments I brought up when former CCSD Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky was putting the reorg together. That’s not the point. AB469 is the law. And Supt. Ebert has the authority to make sure it’s implemented.

Carryover Dollars

In the fall of 2020, I wrote about Bailey Middle School suddenly finding some of its budget was missing. One of the reasons Goudie gave to principal Darryl Wyatt was that Bailey had too much money in carryover funds, so they shouldn’t get more.

Carryover funds are the funds that schools save from year to year from the budgets they are supposed to have autonomy over due to AB469. Schools save this money, perhaps, because they spent less on supplies, but it’s usually because they staffed positions with long term subs, who cost less than teachers. Principals have argued they would love to have a school of full-time, licensed teachers, but they can’t always get them, and the schedule for putting carryover funds in their budgets was out of line with the hiring schedule.

Wyatt says that he has had to let teachers go because his budget was due in January, but those teachers had already taken other positions when the carryover funds were announced in May.

This affects AB469 in a lot of ways. First, as Green Valley’s Roberts points out, principals have been asking Goudie for the formula by which he and his team calculate carryover funds and “he won’t give it to us.” So principals do not know if the amount of funds in their carryover balances are correct.

Eva White, who left the district in 2017 after a 6-month stint as interim CFO, emailed Jara in July 2020 about complaints she was getting from principals that they “are not getting assistance from the Budget Department and in fact were told it was too complicated for them to understand and that they needed to just accept the calculation was correct.”

Seriously, they essentially patted principals on the head and told them they were pretty.

85/15

With AB469 the district must allocate 85 percent of its total budget to schools, and spend only 15 percent on central services. Both Goudie and Chief Strategy Officer Kellie Ballard have told the State Board of Ed that number is impossible to achieve. The board, in turn, has asked Goudie numerous times to give them proof. If, indeed, it is not possible to achieve, then they might change the formula.

He has not provided proof. A receiver would have to see proof.

Interestingly, both Ballard and Goudie cited utilities as a reason they can’t possibly pay all of central services with only 15 percent of CCSD’s $3.6 billion annual budget, because utility costs alone eat up more than that. But utility costs are something that must be taken out of each school’s budget. And each school needs to know how much utilities are costing them. Per school. They aren’t seeing that.

In other words, utilities are part of the 85 percent allocated to schools. Not the 15 percent Goudie and Ballard keep talking about.

In order for a receiver to ensure that AB469 is being followed, they would have to look at the formula for how costs of things like landscaping and utilities are calculated per school. They would have to make the formula for counting carryover dollars public. And work with principals. They would have to do – or lead – a very detailed audit.

Human resources

One of the central fights over AB469 is around the hiring of teachers and staff. The law seemingly gives that authority to principals – to hire teachers and staff that are vetted, “to the greatest extent possible.” CCEA executive director John Vellardita interprets that clause very differently than the principal’s association (CCASAPE) executive director, Jeff Horn. Vellardita has an opinion by the Employee Management Relations Board (EMRB) to back his interpretation – though the EMRB notes their interpretation is limited. The Attorney General ruled in favor of principals. 

Deciding the rights and parameters for principals to hire the teachers they want is key to what the receiver might do.

But that’s not so easy. Remember back in the beginning of 2020, when CCSD changed payroll systems and substitute teachers and others who didn’t just work in one school didn’t get paid. That’s because the payroll system didn’t accommodate them.

Before the new payroll system went live, then Asst. Supt. Jeff Halsell laid out a memo to CFO Goudie on what was likely to go wrong. When it was ignored, Halsell tendered his resignation.

The same issues come up when teachers are looking to get hired. They can apply to schools, but principals don’t have the ability to see which teachers are looking for what kinds of positions.

On June 3, 2021, Nevada State Board President Felicia Ortiz, board member Mark Newburn and Supt. Ebert all asked now-outgoing HR director Nadine Jones to fix the HR system so principals can know who is in the pool to hire. Jones noted the system worked the way they wanted before the new system was implemented. Jones is leaving the district as of April 1.

So, a receiver, working to fix the implementation of AB469, would have to have access to the new HR system. They would have to hire contractors to help figure out why the system didn’t work the way it was supposed to in the first place. They would have to fix those underlying reasons so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

Sink or swim

There are smaller, more detailed tentacles on, for instance, building leaders’ access to data – which should be made public, just like census data. There are issues regarding family engagement. There are a lot of issues I haven’t thought of. The bottom line is in order to fix AB469, the district will have to completely reorganize not just systems, but the way they approach them. Goudie and Jara might survive that. Lawsuits might happen to stop it or slow it down. But reorganization was designed to transform the entire district. You cannot sail off in a brand new boat if you are still clinging to the patchwork shards of the old one.

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman writes the You're Overthinking It newsletter on Substack. She has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015.

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