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EDITORIAL: District schools taxpayers, trustees with shaky settlement

The Clark County School District was starting to regain the community’s confidence. It was showing signs that it could be trusted to wisely spend significantly more tax money on public education. Slowly but surely, business leaders who had long doubted the bureaucracy’s effectiveness were joining forces to build support for a better, more accountable K-12 system.

And then, just before an election with huge ramifications for the future of public education in Nevada, the school district displayed the same shocking arrogance that has defined it for decades. The administration’s disdain for taxpayers and the rule of law, to say nothing of the spineless stewardship of elected trustees, has failed the system and the valley again.

Last week, the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard broke the story that the school district had circumvented the School Board in striking an illegal lawsuit settlement to drop Board President Erin Cranor from the case — and that the system stamped Mrs. Cranor’s signature on the check for good measure.

The school district agreed to pay Business Benefits Inc. $100,100 to remove Mrs. Cranor from the company’s larger breach of contract lawsuit against the system. Mrs. Cranor is alleged to have overstepped her authority in pressuring the school district to terminate Business Benefits, which negotiated the district’s health insurance contracts, without the required 180 days’ notice. Mrs. Cranor stood to be personally liable for any judgment against her. So the school district coughed up your money to let Mrs. Cranor keep hers.

Any award or total settlement in excess of $100,000 requires School Board approval. Indeed, elected trustees were waiting for the settlement to land on a meeting agenda so they could approve or reject it in a public vote. But the school district jammed the settlement through by paying $100,000, an amount that did not require board approval, and having its outside law firm, Kolesar Leatham, pay the last $100.

Moreover, state law requires settlements of claims against public officers to be public record and stipulates that settlements not made public are void. Yet the district kept the settlement from trustees and the public, having cut the check more than a month ago without any public disclosure. When the Review-Journal asked specific questions about the settlement, school district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer was evasive. When the newspaper learned about the check and asked Ms. Searer why she wasn’t forthcoming, she said, “That’s not what you asked.”

So we have the administration giving the public, the press and the elected members of the School Board the middle-finger salute. And where are the elected trustees, the people the voters put in office to hold the school district accountable? They’re hiding behind the bureaucracy that blindsided them, refusing to take phone calls or answer questions about the illegal settlement.

The public needs answers about how the system can keep its elected overseers in the dark, it needs to know someone will be held accountable, and it needs assurances it will never happen again. Now. Because as of this moment, the Clark County School District can’t be trusted with even one more penny of your money.

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