EDITORIAL: Ethics complaints against trustees warrant full inquiry

The Clark County School District made one ethics complaint go away, but that whitewash has spawned four similar complaints, including two lodged last week, alleging School Board members used taxpayer resources to campaign for a property tax increase in 2012.

All five complaints stem from Question 2, which would have funded about $700 million in school construction and renovations. State law prohibits the use of public money in election campaigns, but a handful of system leaders clearly utilized school property and equipment to advocate passage of the tax hike. Voters rejected the plan by a 2-to-1 ratio.

In November, then-School Board President Carolyn Edwards and Associate Superintendent Joyce Haldeman reached a settlement with the Nevada Commission on Ethics that halted a public hearing on the matter and spared them from punishment. After those settlements were announced (at a cost of about $30,000 in legal fees to taxpayers), complaints were brought against School Board members Erin Cranor and Deanna Wright, and on Jan. 16, complaints were lodged against trustees Chris Garvey and Linda Young.

The new complaints, as reported by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, included copies of email blasts sent from each board member seeking volunteers to drum up support for the ballot question. Those actions effectively used tax money from voters who opposed the question to convince others to vote in favor of it. It’s the equivalent of compelling someone who favors one candidate to donate to another candidate in the same race.

A school district statement on the complaints makes the issues sound like a minor matter: “The Trustees and the district look forward to resolving this matter quickly so that we can continue to focus on providing the best education, and improved and safe facilities for our students, parents and community.”

A more appropriate statement would have read: “The Trustees and the district will cooperate with a thorough investigation that gives the public — whose money is necessary to support our mission — a complete accounting of how resources were misused. Those responsible for such misuse will be held accountable.”

If these complaints follow the same course as the case against Ms. Edwards and Ms. Haldeman, the trustees will run up legal fees on the taxpayers’ dime, avoid punishment and prevent a public airing of testimony and evidence against them. That would be unacceptable.

This year, the state teachers’ union is backing the margins tax proposal on November’s ballot, and it’s very likely the School Board will place a new construction question on the ballot as well. The school district is on notice that in 2014, it cannot repeat the mistakes of 2012.

“We will have to be very specific about the cans and cannots of campaigning,” Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky told the Review-Journal editorial board Tuesday. “That will be communicated to everyone.”

Having the public pay for public education, and then using public resources to pressure the public to pay more, is unethical and illegal. A thorough, open investigation is the best way to ensure such improper campaigning is taken seriously and doesn’t happen again.

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