Would-be donor cites missteps by district

A retired executive for a home security firm wanted to give the Clark County School District up to $2 million for gifted education programs.

Instead of accepting the offer, the financially beleaguered school system never closed the deal.

"They said they would get back to me and never did," said Jeffrey Moskow, 61, who has kidney cancer. "It just upset me."

Judi Steele, president of the Public Education Foundation, which raises funds for the school district, faulted district officials for not getting her the information sooner. She first learned about Moskow's offer in late May but did not get his contact information until June 20.

"By then, it wouldn't have made a difference," Steele said.

Moskow gave up waiting for district officials to respond to his offer after a February meeting. He decided to give his money to other causes.

Temple Beth Sholom in Summerlin got $1 million.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas got $1 million.

"It took the administrators there one meeting to welcome the donation," Moskow said of UNLV.

In contrast with the school district, Moskow also said the temple and the university stayed in "daily contact with him" until his donations were made.

Moskow thought it was bizarre that school district officials, who complain about severe budget cuts to education, never followed up with him. Cuts totaling $120 million are planned for in next year's district budget.

After his experience, Moskow said he can't help but wonder whether some of "the wounds" to the school system are "self-inflicted."

District officials have a different version of events. They say they were cooperating with Moskow.

"Something is awry here," Superintendent Walt Rulffes said.

The district's Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler and Kristine Minnich, the coordinator of gifted education, met with Moskow and "shared the plan" for making the best use of his offer, Rulffes said.

Rulffes also said Charlene Green, the deputy superintendent for support services, told him that a district employee "made several attempts to contact Mr. Moskow" but the calls were not returned.

Minnich said she has the "utmost respect" for Moskow.

"His vision aligned with where we want to go," the gifted education coordinator said.

Moskow, who has no children to inherit his wealth, said he realized he wanted to do something for the community when he was diagnosed with cancer about a year and half ago.

Minnich said Moskow wanted to help gifted children because lower-performing students often get extra assistance to bring them up to grade level.

Because gifted education is not a mandate of the federal government, its funding must come from state and local sources, Minnich said.

When asked how the school system could have used the $2 million, Minnich replied, "Gosh, I don't even know where to begin."

Students in third, fourth and fifth grades identified as "gifted and talented" are spending only about 10 percent of their school time in gifted programs, she said.

Minnich was "disheartened" that Moskow thought the school system was not interested in his proposals. She said she corresponded with him by e-mail and gave him literature about gifted programs.

Moskow said he met twice with district officials, once in September 2007, and again in February when "nothing happened."

Weiler was the only district official who Moskow could recall by name at the February meeting.

After the February meeting, Moskow said he never heard from district officials again. Communication was "zero, zilch," Moskow said.

Weiler, who is on vacation, could not be reached for comment.

District officials also gave an additional reason for not accepting the donation. Dave Sheehan, a public information officer who spoke about the situation with Weiler, said Moskow put too many conditions on his offer.

Rulffes said it was his understanding that Moskow's gift "was dedicated money" requiring additional expenses to the district.

Moskow denied that.

"I can honestly say there were no conditions," he said in an e-mail. "All I said was I wanted a program to benefit the gifted students, end of conditions. I'd really like to hear them say that to my face."

Moskow did ask how students and teachers were selected for gifted education programs and what kind of curriculum is used. But he never got any indication that those informational requests represented a "stumbling block."

Afsha Bawany, a public information officer for UNLV, described Moskow as very easy to work with and "simple and straightforward" in his offer.

"There were no tough strings attached or anything like that," Bawany said.

The university used his seven-figure donation to endow the Morris and Sylvia Moskow Distinguished Lecture Series, which is named for Moskow's parents. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and TV critic Alessandra Stanley kicked off the series in October with a joint appearance on campus.

Moskow also has taught part time at the UNLV School of Business since 2003. Bawany described Moskow as a "pretty cool guy" who is very dedicated to education and his students.

"He wants his students to know what is going on in the world," said Bawany, who has sat in on Moskow's classes.

She said Moskow is an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal and often refers to it in his classes.

Because of economic turmoil and declining state revenues, the district is preparing to slash 12 percent of its administrative staff, 3 percent of staffing at each of its schools and a college-bound program for underprivileged youths. It's also looking at shortening athletic seasons and cutting many other programs.

While Moskow said he "weeps" for the students, he said school administrators "cannot be hurting too much" if they can afford to turn away million-dollar donations.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.