Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes has decided not to renew his contract with the nation's fifth-largest school system, which now faces a budget shortfall of $123 million that's demoralized both employees and School Board members.
"I know how rumors often take hold in organizations, so I'll tell you that the only reason I am moving on is that life is short and it's getting late," Rulffes said in an e-mail sent out Thursday night. "I've spent my last 12 years in the service of CCSD and I will be forever grateful for that opportunity."
Rulffes did not cite the district's financial hard times as a factor in his decision to move on when his contract expires at the end of August. Instead, he said he made the decision because of a "long bucket list" of things he wants to do in retirement.
Rulffes is paid $276,932 a year, which reflects a 10 percent pay cut he volunteered to take because of the district's budget crisis. He joined the district in 1997 as the chief financial officer and was named superintendent in 2006.
Before Rulffes announced his intent to leave, School Board members voted Thursday to seek help from the Clark County district attorney's office in future contract negotiations with the five senior employees who report to the superintendent.
The last round of contracts approved for those employees have proved to be a source of controversy for Rulffes and School Board members, who were accused of awarding perks and benefits in excess of $100,000 to the district's most highly paid executive staff at a time of financial hardship.
School Board member Linda Young said Rulffes failed to provide the board with a cost analysis of the contracts during an Oct. 7 workshop when contracts were extended for Charlene Green, deputy superintendent of support services; Bill Hoffman, district general counsel; Lauren Kohut-Rost, deputy superintendent for instruction; Martha Tittle, chief human resources officer; and Jeff Weiler, chief financial officer.
Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees, said the superintendent "clearly lost the confidence of district employees in terms of their ability to perceive that he's going to be fair and just with them."
He said Ruffles' messages to employees, such as his call for "shared sacrifice," is problematic in light of what has been done "in practice."
School Board President Terri Janison said Rulffes will be a "tough act to follow." She said the School Board will soon begin discussions about seeking a replacement.
Janison said the search would be open to "anybody and everybody."
Critics charged that leadership is sorely lacking in the district.
Kevinn Donovan, a district parent and a candidate for Nevada Assembly District 22, questioned why none of the five senior employees volunteered to give up their controversial perks once the School Board was legally advised that it did not have the authority to "unilaterally" reopen contract negotiations.
School Board member Sheila Moulton defended the contracts with a family analogy, saying that children are often treated differently by parents because of their individual needs.
School Board member Carolyn Edwards, who called for more transparency and backup material when negotiating senior employee contracts, agreed with Moulton that much of the criticism against Rulffes is politically motivated.
"I think Trustee Moulton is right," Edwards said. "There is some political stuff going on here. We're still in negotiations (with the unions). There's some maneuvering going on. I think all parties need to be aware of that as well."
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-374-7917.