CCSD motives questioned in investigation of language program

Priscilla Rocha may be the focal point of a criminal investigation for suspected misuse of public school funds, but she seems to be more of a political target, asserts Andres Mendoza, deputy director of Nevada’s League of United Latin American Citizens.

He called on Wednesday for an investigation into the Clark County School District’s motivations for singling out Rocha, LULAC’s state director and a former member of the Nevada State Board of Education. Mendoza said she has made enemies among district officials for her strong stances on Hispanic educational issues and her involvement in School Board elections. She’s the director of the district’s Adult English Language Acquisition program — overseeing 22 employees and a $1.09 million annual budget — and faces accusations involving misuse of taxpayer funds and submission of false invoices.

Las Vegas police questioned Rocha about district-owned computers provided to staff, she told the Review-Journal last week.

“The way they’re conducting this investigation is strange,” said Mendoza, adding that he knows of many complaints that have been lodged against district employees for far worse accusations that went nowhere. But district leaders “never cared” about those complaints and didn’t call in Las Vegas police. “We think there is something else. I have no doubt there are some political issues.”

The School District declined on Wednesday to comment on Mendoza’s allegations.

Rocha, 66, has garnered much praise for her work in the Hispanic community, which includes fundraising for a student mariachi group, leading an anti-gang program and directing the Hispanic Association for Bilingual Literacy and Education. She received national recognition for work that earned her a trip to the White House, Mendoza said. According to state business records, Mendoza is president of the Hispanic Association for Bilingual Literacy and Education.

“She’s been fighting for education for so long, has been important for so many generations of students,” Mendoza said. “She’s also been vocal on so many issues,” which may have painted a target on her back.

Two weeks ago, Rocha made her interest known for the position of assistant superintendent of the English language-learner program, Mendoza said. The position was vacated in February when Lucy Keaton stepped down just a year after the job was created.

Mendoza didn’t provide evidence as to what district employee lodged the complaint against Rocha or who pushed for the investigation, bringing it to Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky’s attention.

Skorkowsky has publicly said he received word of the complaint about the program in December 2013 from an employee he wouldn’t name. He wouldn’t detail where the complaint originated but called school police to investigate. After a short time, Skorkowsky called the Metropolitan Police Department on Jan. 31 to take up the investigation.

“It’s very weird and very strange,” Mendoza said.

Last week, Las Vegas police searched department offices, a home and a private business. Police interviewed Rocha for five hours at her office and also interrogated other department staff members.

Skorkowsky said Monday that the department was closed with five employees being suspended, including Rocha. The remaining employees have been transferred to other departments, he said. However, the district sent a news release Wednesday correcting that information.

“Almost all of the classes offered to the community continued without interruption,” the district wrote Wednesday. The department is being reorganized but is still offering classes to non- and limited-English speaking adults.

Classes continue across Clark County, except for those held at 3801 E. Washington Ave. and 4204 Channel 10 Drive, where Las Vegas police served search warrants and confiscated office files. Students with questions about classes can call 702-799-6478.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.