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EDITORIAL: Washoe County School Board embraces secrecy, insults public

Clark County voters do not need to be reminded of the importance of elected offices at the bottom of the ballot. Such down-ticket races attract considerably less attention and interest, creating opportunities for unqualified candidates to win jobs they have no business holding and cause problems, not solve them. Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura provides the public with an ongoing lesson in how incompetence leads to embarrassment and expensive liabilities.

Now Washoe County voters are receiving the same painful education, thanks to the astoundingly arrogant and stupid maneuverings of their rogue School Board.

Six of the seven elected trustees called Superintendent Pedro Martinez into a July 22 meeting that was closed to the public and wasn’t properly noticed. Those six trustees accused Mr. Martinez of lying about being a certified public accountant, then voted unanimously to fire him.

Worse, according to Mr. Martinez, Trustees Dave Aiazzi and Lisa Ruggerio told him, “We can destroy your career and we can destroy your family. We’ll cut you a check for $200,000. Think about your family.”

If the School Board wanted to review Mr. Martinez’s credentials or performance, trustees had an absolute duty to notify constituents and do it in a public setting. If trustees wanted to offer Mr. Martinez a $200,000 buyout on his contract, they should have consulted the taxpaying public. Aren’t Nevada school districts strapped for funding? Would that be a productive use of resources?

Trustee Estela Gutierrez was not at the clearly illegal meeting, which violated the state’s open meeting law in many ways. Trustees met, deliberated and took action in a private setting without providing notice. And Ms. Gutierrez’s constituents were shut out of the sham proceedings altogether.

On July 23, trustees tried to walk back their foolish action, announcing that Mr. Martinez was on paid leave — another action that required trustees to meet, deliberate and take action without providing notice or allowing public comment or scrutiny.

Mr. Martinez’s contract requires that he get 10 days notice if he’s fired for cause and 90 days notice if he’s fired without cause. He filed a lawsuit against the school district and the School Board last week, as well as a request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the district. Trustees now claim that lawsuit prevents them from responding to growing public outrage.

School Board President Barbara Clark told the Reno Gazette-Journal that district counsel advised trustees they hadn’t broken the open meeting law. Not only does the system need new trustees, it needs a new lawyer.

This debacle has ramifications for the entire state. All Nevada schools must perform better if the state is to grow and diversify its economy. And the Washoe County School District is suddenly a completely undesirable destination for anyone with education chops — as long as this out-of-control School Board remains in power.

Perhaps Mr. Martinez’s performance leaves something to be desired. If that’s the case, the School Board could have addressed it in a transparent, lawful manner. Now Northern Nevada voters will pay dearly for the blundering of trustees. Now Northern Nevada voters have every reason to give great consideration to every race on November’s ballot.

Meanwhile, John Bonaventura is smiling. He suddenly has several competitors in the race for worst elected official in Nevada.

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