Superintendent search: District needs a leader to spur reforms

The Clark County School Board has abandoned a national search for a new superintendent before it could start. On Wednesday, the board voted 6-1 to end negotiations with search firm McPherson & Jacobson. The move was embarrassing and shortsighted, but not terribly surprising.

Dwight Jones’ sudden resignation last month, after barely two years on the job, infuriated large segments of the public. The people who stuck their necks out to bring in the Colorado reformer felt betrayed. And his exit reinforced the self-serving argument of the local teachers union that outsiders simply aren’t equipped to handle the challenges of the district.

Trustees are under enormous pressure to hire a local. So they caved and pushed back to May 20 a decision on whether to launch a national search or give the job to interim Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky.

“We need someone who knows us and will be here for the long run,” Trustee Chris Garvey said she was told by her constituents.

Given the pressures of running the country’s fifth-largest school district, it’s unrealistic to expect any leader to stay in the job longer than four or five years. Indeed, Mr. Skorkowsky is about to mark his 25th anniversary with the district, meaning he’ll be eligible to retire and start collecting his pension in five years.

As Board President Carolyn Edwards said Wednesday, “We need the richest pool we can pull from.” No one should be compelled to settle — not when our struggling system has so far to come.

Mr. Jones laid the groundwork for some reforms, but the school district is notoriously resistant to change. A leader who can build relationships while tearing down barriers to improvement would do wonders. A Legislature that gives superintendents more tools to manage their systems would help, as well. How long before lawmakers get rid of the “evergreen” provisions in labor contracts that allow unions to bargain in bad faith? How long before elected bodies, not unaccountable, unelected arbitrators are allowed to settle contract disputes?

The district also needs intense competition. Nevada needs vouchers, more charter schools and more private schools. Only when all parents have choices, and can pull their children en masse from failing campuses, will the district have the necessary incentive to address all its shortcomings. Competition will yield the best fit for superintendent, too. The search must go on.

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