The Washoe County School Board recently approved a controversial contract for first-time Superintendent Traci Davis, which has drawn a lot of negative attention. And now the local Republican Party is looking for contenders to unseat school board members who voted to approve it. Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick reached out to both sides in order to sort this issue out.
The contract for Superintendent Traci Davis includes a $238,000 base salary, with additional perks like a personal vehicle allowance and an incentive bonus. The Washoe County Republican Party is unhappy with the contract and with the current school board.
GOP Chairman Adam Khan says they’re just speaking up for the community.
“What I have a lot of concern with, as well as a lot of the people in Washoe County, a lot of the parents, a lot of the teachers is the amount that this contract comes in," Khan says. "And I believe that it’s symbolic of some of the flaws of our school district.”
Khan says that the school board has made too many poor decisions in recent years, and now it’s time for the GOP to find new people for the job—regardless of party affiliation.
“We want to make sure we have the people in those positions that will remember not to put bureaucrats in the forefront, but we want to make sure we have someone in the school board that will put students first.”
School Board Trustee Angie Taylor voted in favor of the Davis contract. She says the contract actually helps the district, thanks in large part to the absence of a contentious evergreen clause.
“An evergreen clause means the contract never expires," Taylor says. "It’s a three year contract, but after the first year, another year rolls onto the back. After the second year, another year gets rolled on to the back.”
This clause puts the district in a position in which the only way to remove a superintendent is through a costly buyout, something they were trying to avoid after paying a hefty settlement to former superintendent, Pedro Martinez.
“The evergreen contract part is a big part as to why I didn’t have a problem with the back pay," Taylor argues. "Is it ideal? No, it isn’t ideal at all. But once you consider all the other things that were pulled off the table, I’d rather pay $50,000 or so once than to be in line for what could be upwards of $700,000.”
Taylor also says that timing played a role in her decision.
“It was right before the beginning of the school year, and it would have been the second school year in a row we’ve gone into without a superintendent. That’s hard on families, that’s hard on teachers and administrators, and ultimately that means it’s hard on students.”
While Khan’s criticism of the school board is partly due to the Davis contract, he says it really has to do with a general lack of fiscal responsibility.
“We have overcrowding in our schools, we have a shortage of teachers, we don’t have proper school supplies, we don’t have adequate facilities for our students," Khan says. "We don’t have money for these types of things.”
Nick Smith is a school board trustee who voted against the Davis contract, as well as a member of the Republican Party. And he says one thing many people, including Khan, don’t understand, is how the district gets and uses its funding.
“While praise was given to the governor for allowing us money, you have to understand that we can’t use that money for facilities," Smith says. "We can’t use that for crossing guards. That’s not something we can do. The money we received is earmarked for instructional programming. We’ve got the money to teach it, and a mandate that says we have to teach it, but we don’t have the space.”
Angie Taylor says she understands the public outcry and why there’s so much confusion about public school funding. She blames the board’s lack of transparency when explaining their decisions.
“We have to do a better job of demonstrating that the decisions that we’re making are good for the community and here’s why," she says. "I don’t think we’ve done a great job of saying here’s why.”
Adam Khan, with the Washoe County GOP, isn’t convinced that’s going to be enough, and says he’ll continue to search for the right people to serve on the board.
“You talk to people on the streets, you go on social media, you hear the news. People are outraged." Khan adds, "It’s not a partisan issue for me; it’s something where we want the best candidates.”
Four school board seats are up for election next year. They are currently held by Lisa Ruggerio, Howard Rosenberg, Angie Taylor and Barbara McLaury—all of whom voted to approve the Davis contract.