The Nevada State Board of Education is looking at possible consequences if the Clark County School District doesn’t comply with a reorganization law.
The board held a public hearing Thursday and approved a notice of intent to act on a proposed regulation, opting in a split vote to delete a section about receivership.
The state board and its Assembly Bill 469 subcommittee have been looking for months into school district compliance issues with the reorganization law.
The 2017 measure passed by the Legislature aims to give more control to individual schools in the nation’s fifth-largest district, which has about 300,000 students, in areas such as staffing and budgeting.
The law says any school district with more than 100,000 students must reorganize, but Clark County is the only one that falls into that category.
The proposed regulation outlines “certain powers of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to carry out the reorganization of a large school district,” according to online meeting materials.
The original regulation language said steps could be taken such as issuing a notice of noncompliance, requesting a corrective action plan, appointing one or more compliance monitors, and placing the district into partial or full receivership.
Board Vice President Mark Newburn suggested removing the section about receivership, saying that he hopes it will be a goodwill gesture and that the goal is compliance, not receivership.
He said he has gotten the impression that Clark County School Board trustees are very eager to work with the state and that district administrators are struggling with how to solve some problems related to the reorganization law.
Newburn said he also believes trustees view the regulation as though receivership is the true goal and that it’s a power grab by the state.
During a public comment about a few reorganization-related regulations, school district Chief Strategy Officer Kellie Kowal-Paul said the district is disputing the defamatory language from the state board that it’s in open defiance of the law.
There has been continued effort and progress, she said, and the district has worked with the former and current state superintendent.
The district has responded comprehensively to state requests for information and held frequent phone calls and virtual meetings, Kowal-Paul said.
In April, the district submitted to the state its own assessment of compliance, she said.
Saying the district is out of compliance is false, and the proposed regulations are an overreach beyond the authority of the state board, she said.
Some of the proposed regulations are founded on false assumptions and are “arbitrary and capricious,” Kowal-Paul said.
Kenneth Paul, former principal of Lyon Middle School in Overton, said in a public comment that he is in full support of the noncompliance regulation.
Talk of the conversation about noncompliance being defamatory “hits me wrong,” he said.
There has been lots of patience for five years with the district delaying and not complying, Paul said.
If we want to see substantial change in schools, he said, decision-making and money has to be closer to schools and communities.
Ed Gonzalez, a community member representative on Hickey Elementary’s school organizational team, said he supports the regulation.
He said he doesn’t think anyone wants to get to the point of receivership. That shouldn’t be the goal, he added, noting it should be implementing the law.
Board President Felicia Ortiz said she agrees that no one wants to see receivership and that is “a long step away,” but the board wants to get reorganization issues resolved.
During the Thursday meeting, two school district officials — Chief Financial Officer Jason Goudie and Kowal-Paul — gave a presentation about a requirement under the reorganization law to allocate 85 percent of unrestricted funds to “local school precincts.”
It was an information-only item, and the board didn’t take action.
Kowal-Paul was slated to deliver a portion of the presentation about school carryforward funds but was halted because the topic wasn’t specifically included on the meeting agenda.
Under state law, a large school district is required to carry out and pay for certain services such as transportation, food, financial, building maintenance and repair, capital projects, utilities, information technology and police.
When trying to apply the 85 percent rule to something the district must do and pay for, “it provides a contradiction,” Goudie said.
Newburn said it’s one of the big remaining items of noncompliance and has been a topic of contention since the beginning.
The district doesn’t believe it can do it, but the Legislature doesn’t believe the district, he said. “Now it’s become a problem for us.”
Newburn said he thinks the path forward is doing a deep dive with the state board’s AB 469 subcommittee, working with the district to understand the numbers and complexity.
If the district and state board come to a point where they jointly believe something should change, they can go to the Legislature together, he said.
District defends its response
Last week during a Clark County School Board AB 469 subcommittee meeting, Kowal-Paul presented an overview of the history of the reorganization law. The presentation also included anticipated future work, including developing a comprehensive reorganization policy and public compliance tracker.
The district continues implementation of the reorganization, but its primary focus has been on COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery over the past two years, Kowal-Paul said.
Superintendent Jesus Jara said it’s a “complete overhaul” with a lot of moving parts.
Jara said he has heard public comments saying the district doesn’t have any interest in complying with the law. But he said the district has been working diligently to comply.
“In the midst of a pandemic, we have been trying to meet the letter of the law,” he said.
Jara asked Kowal-Paul if the district has received funding from the Legislature in order to accomplish the reorganization. Kowal-Paul said it hasn’t, except for a human capital management system.
Trustee Lola Brooks said it’s an unfunded mandate and an extensive overhaul.
Also, there’s not a full-time district staff devoted to reorganization, she said, adding there are other issues in the district as well such as the pandemic and staffing shortages.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at email@example.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.