Names emerge for school post


The application form for Clark County School District superintendent candidates has not yet been circulated, but the jockeying for the position has already started.

Former Nevada Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers already has expressed interest in replacing Superintendent Walt Rulffes, who is retiring Aug. 31.

But Rogers is not the only one whose name is making the rounds before the search is fully launched. Other names are starting to emerge as well, according to sources who have been contacted by local community members and supporters of out-of-state prospects.

Today , the Clark County School Board is scheduled to approve its criteria for the next superintendent, which will allow its search firm to post the application form online. The nation's fifth-largest public school system is seeking someone who is focused on student achievement, has experience with large budgets, is an effective and approachable communicator, and can develop a trusting relationship with the board and community.

A local businessman who asked not to be named told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was recently contacted by a Texas attorney who asked him to support Cathy Mincberg as the next superintendent. She is a former executive for school districts in Houston and Portland, Ore.

Coincidentally, Mincberg and the lawyer, David Guedry of Dallas, recently gave a joint speech to a local community group that extolled the benefits of using a business model to operate an education system. They explained how the outsourcing of school food services saved millions in taxpayer dollars in the Houston Independent School District, according to people who attended the meeting.

Those at the June 10 meeting of BeacoNevada -- an acronym for Business Education Alliance for the Children of Nevada -- were community leaders such as Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, and School Board President Terri Janison.

Janison, however, said she was not aware that Mincberg was interested in becoming a candidate for superintendent. Brent Husson, chairman of BeacoNevada, said that Mincberg never presented herself as a candidate for Clark County superintendent and that the topic of finding a successor for Rulffes never came up at the meeting.

The search firm of McPherson and Jacobson will have the job of vetting and presenting the finalists to the School Board, said firm owner Tom Jacobson.

Board members also are scheduled to vote today on a $46,200 contract for the search firm, which includes $7,700 for expenses. The board already has approved an additional $3,200 for an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal.

Husson chuckled at the notion that his group has much influence on the district's superintendent search. "We're pretty small potatoes," he said.

Husson said Guedry and Mincberg were invited because a BeacoNevada member, Debra Guedry, is related to David Guedry. The Texas attorney requested that Mincberg also be allowed to speak. David Guedry is an expert on "outsourcing law," or privatizing public services, Husson said.

Neither Guedry nor Mincberg returned calls and e-mails seeking comment.

According to Portland's Willamette Weekly, Mincberg earlier this year was an unsuccessful candidate for superintendent of the school district in Reynolds, Ore., which serves about 10,700 students. She also was the chief operating officer for Portland Public Schools, which serves about 47,000 students. Mincberg, who has a website, cathymincberg.com, is currently the chief academic officer and vice president of KC Distance Learning.

She was the chief of business services for the Houston school district between 2000 and 2004. During that time, a state audit showed the Houston district had been under-reporting its dropout data. The Texas district also was criticized for failing to report thousands of campus crimes, The New York Times reported.

Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees, said he is troubled both by Mincberg's record and the appearance that Janison has given her a leg-up in the selection process.

Augspurger noted controversies reported by the Houston Chronicle in 2004 involving Mincberg taking gifts from businesses under contract with the school district, such as Super Bowl tickets from Hewlett-Packard. The Houston school district did not have a policy against employees taking gifts at the time.

Before becoming a paid administrator with a $160,000 salary in Houston, Mincberg was a school board member for the district, The New York Times reported.

In Portland, Mincberg urged teachers to make extra money by driving school buses at $10.32 an hour, the Willamette Weekly reported.

"Is that the kind of superintendent we want in the Clark County School District?" asked Augspurger, who suspects that Mincberg is getting special treatment.

"I think any candidate will think they are deserving of special consideration because a board member reached out to them," he said.

The Clark County School Board shouldn't waste "$50,000 in taxpayer money" on a search firm if it's going to run its own search, Augspurger said.

Janison said she is not trying to actively recruit any candidates herself. "I have not called anybody," she said.

To avoid conflicts of interest, Janison said she won't know who the candidates are until a short list is created by the search firm. The board's goal is to appoint someone in October.

Janison said it's normal for a superintendent search to generate a lot of interest, especially in a district with more than 308,000 students.

"I've asked people in the community and people across the country I know, if you know of good-quality candidates, please have them submit their name," Janison said. "I'm counting on the fact that there are people out there trying to find good people for us."

Janison said she is not teaming up with any influential community group to find somebody. "I'm not doing anything in alignment with somebody," she said.

Two sources, including one within the district, also told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Michelle Rhee, chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., was approached about the job by unnamed Clark County community leaders but she was not interested in the position.

Rogers, a philanthropist and owner of KVBC-TV, Channel 3, said he is losing confidence the Clark County School Board will select the right candidate. He said that no one on the board has "operated anything" and that members don't have an understanding of how a chief executive officer works.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal .com or 702-374-7917.

 

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