Skorkowsky retirement shows spending more didn’t improve education

It’s hard to believe it today, but four years ago union leaders praised the selection of Pat Skorkowsky as superintendent of the Clark County School District.

On Thursday, Skorkowsky stunned the valley by announcing he’ll retire in June — and that’s nowhere near soon enough for the Clark County Education Association.

“CCEA welcomes the news of the Superintendent announcing his retirement,” the CCEA said in an unsigned statement. “We do think it would be in everyone’s interest that he step aside and let interim leadership take the helm while a national search takes place to find a new Superintendent.”

Don’t let the CCEA’s finger-pointing make you forget the past. Skorkowsky was the union’s guy.

Skorkowsky replaced Dwight Jones, who frequently clashed with the Clark County Education Association. Hired in 2010 with the backing of the business community, Jones worked to institute a host of reforms. These included ending “last in, first out,” a union-supported practice of basing layoffs on seniority, not performance. At the same time Jones pushed for reforms, he demanded pay freezes to solve a CCSD budget deficit. The CCEA fought the pay freezes all the way to arbitration.

To the union, Jones’ abrupt departure in March 2013 was a big win. The promotion of Skorkowsky to superintendent — without a national search — was a bigger win. Far from a reformer, Skorkowsky was a 25-year district veteran and former teacher. There were whispers he was in the CCEA’s pocket.

Then, in 2015, Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed the largest tax increase in Nevada history, specifically to fund education. He called it a “plan to modernize and transform Nevada for its next 50 years of success.” Sandoval’s tax hikes, which eventually reached $1.5 billion, thrilled the CCEA.

And in January 2016, Skorkowsky executed the most important part of the CCEA’s “spend more” plan: $135.5 million in teacher pay raises.

The CCEA got what it wanted, what it claimed would finally fix Nevada’s education system. And the union got it from Skorkowsky.

Look where we are today, just 20 months later. The school district has a budget deficit that could top $80 million. Looks like Sandoval’s promise of setting up Nevada “for its next 50 years of success” was only off by 48 years.

It turns out conservatives were right. You can’t fix a broken system by throwing more money at it.

Skorkowsky touched on some of the CCSD’s structural problems in his combative and almost defiant retirement statement.

“The bargaining units want the district to evolve but are unwilling to change how they do business,” he said. “They need a cultural shift, too. They can’t just stand with their hand out all of the time without coming to the table with real solutions.”

Skorkowsky couldn’t fix that, because the collective bargaining laws hampering the CCSD were made by state lawmakers.

Skorkowsky said he’ll spend the rest of his tenure addressing the CCSD’s “key problems … without holding back.”

He should start with collective bargaining.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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