The next superintendent of the Clark County School District is going to fail. It doesn’t matter who the district hires. It doesn’t matter if he or she has financial expertise, a background in education or loads of political savvy.
The next superintendent isn’t going to have the one thing he or she actually needs — authority.
Consider district finances, which are a mess. The district’s general fund budget increased by $133.8 million this year, and you saw months of hearings and headlines about $60 million in “cuts.”
“I think we really need someone with a banking background that knows what’s going on,” said Michael Navarro, assistant principal at Wynn Elementary.
The problem isn’t that current Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky can’t read a spreadsheet. The problem is that the superintendent can do little to fix the budget. Around 87 percent of the district’s general fund costs are for personnel. Thanks to collective bargaining — a state law — the superintendent can’t reduce worker compensation without union approval. Currently, the Clark County Education Association is fighting the superintendent’s pay freeze. Without a resolution, an unaccountable, out-of-state arbitrator will decide that dispute. State law also sets pension contributions, which have increased by 40 percent in 14 years.
Attracting enough teachers to the district has always been a challenge. Now teachers are suing the Teachers Health Trust, which is run by the CCEA and provides health insurance for educators, over unpaid medical bills. The district has wanted to move teachers onto a private plan for years, but the association has blocked those efforts. A new superintendent won’t have the legal power to change that stalemate.
The superintendent can’t even protect an ending fund balance of 2 percent. If the district has any money left over, those funds increase its ability to give raises. That’s the first thing an arbitrator looks at when deciding salary disputes.
Say the new superintendent wants to improve or fire bad teachers. That’d be incredibly important, because teacher quality is the most important school controlled-factor in student achievement. Teacher evaluations from throughout Nevada, however, showed fewer than 3 in 1,000 teachers received an ineffective rating. Long-awaited efforts to include student achievement data in teacher evaluations are coming eventually, but good luck using that data to fire ineffective teachers. Thanks to union opposition, the district had a hard enough time firing a teacher caught watching pornography in the classroom.
Political acumen won’t help, either. Five years ago, Pat Skorkowsky was the union-backed candidate. Now the union wants him off the job immediately. The business community strongly supported his immediate predecessor, Dwight Jones, who was superintendent from October 2010 to March 2013. Employee unions fought the reforms Jones wanted every step of the way and largely succeeded in blocking them.
Nevada just tried more money. In 2015, Gov. Brian Sandoval pushed through the largest tax increase in Nevada history, specifically to fund schools. The district’s budget problems came less than two years later.
Good luck navigating those limitations and landmines before you can even think about increasing student achievement.
Union leadership has spent decades perfecting this bait-and-switch. Thanks to state law, union officials hold most of the power, but the superintendent gets the blame when things don’t go well.
The job description says “superintendent,” but the district will really be hiring another fall guy.