Some School Board members may want new superintendent

Some indicators show the clock may be running out on Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes.

Named superintendent in 2006, Rulffes has served almost three years, which is the average tenure for superintendents of large urban school districts, according to the Council of Great City Schools.

Politically, Rulffes also has just lost two of his biggest School Board supporters to term limits — three-term incumbents Ruth Johnson and Mary Beth Scow will not be returning in 2009.

Up to four new people could be voted onto the seven-member board in the November general elections, throwing into question whether Rulffes will be able to retain the support of a board majority.

One board candidate, Ron Taylor, is candid about wanting a change in leadership.

“Absolutely,” said Taylor, a district teacher running for the nonpartisan District B seat up for grabs now that Johnson is ineligible. “I would look into letting him go. He probably realizes that.”

Taylor criticized Rulffes for being too aloof and unresponsive to employees.

“You don’t run an organization this big without listening to the workers,” said Taylor, who garnered 24 percent of Tuesday’s primary vote, finishing second to Johnson.

Both Johnson and Scow appeared on primary ballots printed before the state’s high court issued a term-limits ruling that barred them from fourth terms.

A Vietnam veteran, Taylor recalled that “even in the military, generals had open-door policies.”

Taylor also is critical of Rulffes’ record in improving academics within the district, the nation’s fifth-largest system of public schools.

“He’s really good at manipulating the numbers, but that’s not educating the kids,” Taylor said.

Rulffes declined to comment for this story.

“I don’t discuss board members or candidates,” Rulffes said Wednesday.

Rulffes has a contract that’s good through August 2010. He is paid $290,000 a year plus benefits.

Some observers said it was unfair and short-sighted of the current School Board to extend Rulffes’ contract past 2009, committing new board members to work with him for at least another year and a half.

Speaking off the record, some would-be board members said that it would be too costly to fire Rulffes and that they would rather let his term expire.

Many candidates, including Taylor, said they’re not in a rush to replace Rulffes. Most said they are keeping an open mind.

Ronan Matthew, a retired principal and candidate for District C, said, “I’m not a fan of his, but I wouldn’t say he should be replaced.”

Matthew is running for a board seat left open by incumbent Shirley Barber’s decision not to seek re-election.

John Schutt Jr., a District E candidate who is up against incumbent Terri Janison in the general election, differentiated himself from the losing primary opponents in his race who were outspoken about replacing Rulffes.

Schutt said he does not believe in making Rulffes a scapegoat.

“Most of these problems were there a long time before him,” Schutt said. “You can’t just throw everything on him.”

Schutt added that he “would like a chance to work with him.”

Chris Garvey, who is Taylor’s general election opponent for District B, said she believes in looking for common ground. She is not out to vilify Rulffes either.

“If you chop off somebody’s head, they can’t turn their head and look in your direction,” Garvey said.

Other school board candidates did not immediately return phone calls or declined to comment.

Martin Dean Dupalo, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor who unsuccessfully ran for School Board two years ago, said the board is clearly headed in a new direction since Rulffes has lost supporters Johnson and Scow.

“It’s a major shift,” he said.

While Dupalo doesn’t believe there’s cause to fire Rulffes, he said a change in superintendents is inevitable since a new board will want to set its own agenda. “There’s nothing earth-shattering here,” he said.

He does not expect a messy breakup, either. “I’m sure it will be amiable.”

Contact reporter James Haug at or 702-799-2922.

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