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A ‘paid vacation’: School district sends 17 to the beach to recruit teachers

How many school district staff does it take to hold a teacher recruitment event?

Seventeen, when the event is at Miami Beach over the Fourth of July holiday.

During the holiday week, 17 Clark County School District recruiters and principals stayed at a beachfront hotel in the Florida resort city, documents obtained through a public records request show.

Two prospective hires came to the event. Neither one filled out an application, and no one was hired, the school district acknowledged.

A Nevada lawmaker said the trip sounds like a junket.

“That is nothing but a county-paid vacation,” said Assembly Minority Leader P.K. O’Neill, R-Carson City, after the Las Vegas Review-Journal described what it had found. “That is damn near criminal to me.”

The Miami Beach trip was one of nearly 40 out-of-town trips taken by district recruiters from mid-September of 2022 to early August of 2023 at a cost of about $159,000, excluding employees’ salaries, records show. However, district officials could not say how many hires resulted, citing inadequate tracking systems for the trips.

O’Neill said the district should be able to detail its return on investment for such trips.

“It is basic Business School 101,” the lawmaker said. “What you have told me is very, very upsetting, and it must be addressed.”

State lawmakers this year approved more than $11 billion to fund kindergarten through 12th grade education over the biennium — a $2 billion increase. Since then, Democratic leadership has called for the resignation of district Superintendent Jesus Jara.

‘Major strides in recruitment’

Those traveling to Miami Beach stayed for five nights in early July at the Holiday Inn Miami Beach-Oceanfront, with the holiday falling in the middle of the trip. The small conference room where the hiring event was held was booked for two half days.

The trip cost roughly $37,000 for lodging, transportation, rental of the conference room and other expenses, according to district expense reports and other documents.

District officials declined repeated requests for an interview about the trips and their recruiting efforts, providing written statements instead.

“Although the District did not see the success it hoped for on this specific trip, CCSD continues to make major strides in recruitment,” the district wrote in one email.

“The District hired 2,216 teachers last year and is on pace to at least match that number this year, which is the highest number of hires the District has seen in the last 5 years DESPITE the national teacher shortage,” officials wrote.

The district gave conflicting accounts of the trips.

An initial email from the district regarding the nearly 40 recruitment trips said: “Please note that the trips were to attend conferences, no CCSD hires/applications are associated with these trips.”

When asked about documents showing travel to career fairs, the district backtracked, saying: “There were hires from these trips. The exact origin of each candidate is difficult to determine because systems are not ideal for tracking individual candidates.”

The district said that during the 2022-2023 hiring period, recruiters were involved in 1,000 hires, but it did not respond to a question about how it had made this determination.

As of July 31, a week before school began, the district had 1,195 vacancies for classroom teachers. As of Nov. 8, there remained 1,095, the district said.

‘Chance to sell their schools’

District recruiters crossed the country from Honolulu to Miami, from Pittsburgh to Houston, primarily to travel to universities and teacher conferences. Records show that most of the district’s recruitment trips involved one, two or a few staff recruiters.

The district said it occasionally uses larger groups of staff to help recruit candidates as it did for the Miami Beach trip.

Comprising the Miami Beach group were eight principals along with nine recruiters and support staff.

The district invites principals to recruiting events to “give them a chance to sell their schools,” the district’s director of recruitment Brian Redmond said at a media briefing in late July. He has since been promoted to a position in the district’s leadership academy.

Redmond, who was among the travelers to Miami Beach, did not respond to interview requests. Recruiters and support staff who were on the trip did not respond to phone messages.

The school principals either did not return phone messages or referred a reporter to the district’s communications office.

“I think all recruitment efforts are good because we need teachers desperately,” said Angie Shepard, principal at Hal Smith Elementary School, before referring a reporter to the communications office.

Julie Russell, an assistant principal at Dearing Elementary School, praised the Miami Beach trip.

“I thought it was a great trip. There are a lot of teachers in Miami and in Florida that are looking to move to Las Vegas. Being there in person really helps to get conversations started,” she said before deferring to the communications office.

The principals and recruitment staff arrived days in advance “to market the fair through flyer drop off at local business, community centers, hotels and other surrounding areas,” the district said, noting that staff visited the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University.

Publicizing the event ought to have been done in advance of the trip, O’Neill said.

“They were just hoping that they would have a fun time and maybe that something would happen, is how it sounds to me,” he said.

District social media posts say the event was at the hotel’s Palm conference room, which according to the hotel’s website is 644 square feet.

Pandemic education dollars spent

Asked about the location and timing of the trip, the district wrote: “Our analysis determined there could be a significant opportunity to recruit in Florida, which is the third most populous state in the country,” district staff wrote. “Additionally, Miami-Dade is the most populous county in the state of Florida.”

District documents show that federal grant money — the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund — paid for much of the trip. The fund was intended to provide local educational agencies with “emergency relief funds to address the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the Nation,” according to the U.S Department of Education.

Limitations imposed on federal funding dictated the first week of July as the earliest possible time to schedule the hiring event, the district said, despite the fact that the start of school was just weeks away.

The grant program provides great flexibility in how its dollars are spent, and among many other uses, the money can be used to “strengthen recruitment and training programs,” according to information from the federal education department.

District documents show that grant money funded $29,000 of the Miami trip.

Asked to comment on the trip and recruitment efforts, school board trustees either didn’t return calls, declined to comment or in some cases referred the Las Vegas Review-Journal to board president Evelyn Garcia Morales. She did not respond to requests for an interview.

The matters falls within the purview of school board members, “and they should be livid about it,” O’Neill said. “They are the first overseers to how money is spent, and that is their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Las Vegas and the state.”

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MaryHynes1 on X. Hynes is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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