Feud over nearly $1.2 million consulting fee continues between school district, lawmakers

Lawmakers are primed to pass a bill that would deduct a consultant’s nearly $1.2 million fee from a pot of money usually used for teacher salaries and student needs.

Clark County School District officials cried foul when the legislative committee that crafted the district’s reorganization plan hired TSC² Group, a Las Vegas-based consulting firm, last fall to help carry out the transformation. The school district had not proposed the arrangement or approved the seven-figure price tag.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and the Clark County School Board of Trustees have urged lawmakers to spare CCSD from paying the contract, arguing the nation’s fifth-largest school district is already strapped for cash without that added burden. But Assembly Bill 469 — sponsored by the four most powerful members of the Legislature — could nullify the district’s attempt to escape paying the bill.

That’s because a provision addressing the contract situation appears on the second-to-last page of the bill, declaring the school district responsible for covering the cost.

“Such reimbursement must be made through a deduction in the money appropriated to the school district for the next biennium,” the bill states.

In other words, that $1.2 million would be subtracted from the amount of money the school district receives from the state. The state appropriation for the 2017-2018 fiscal year is estimated to account for one-third of the school district’s general operating fund, which covers the cost of staff salaries and benefits, textbooks and supplies, technology, and buses, among other uses.

Clark County School Trustee Erin Cranor said board members voiced their displeasure about the bill provision during a work session Wednesday morning.

“That’s an expense the Legislature chose to incur, and the Legislature should actually pay for the expense,” she said after the meeting. “We’re not planning on paying.”

Republican Sen. Michael Roberson, who chaired the interim committee that approved the contract, said the proposed increase in the state’s allocation to the district would essentially cover the cost of the contract, minimizing the payment’s effect on CCSD’s revenue stream.

“Frankly, it should be a more palatable way for the school district to reimburse the Legislature,” he said. “They’re effectively not going to notice any loss of revenue from last session to this session, so it’s for their benefit.”

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson said that lawmakers included the contract in the bill to keep their payment options open. He said that legislators still haven’t decided whether to allocate extra dollars to the district to pay for the contract, or if the payment would need to be taken from the dollars already planned to be allocated to the district.

Lawmakers believe the bill would squash the school district’s lawsuit regarding the reorganization plan, thus removing any barriers to implementation. The reorganization inverts the school district’s operating structure, weakening the central office and giving more budgeting and decision-making power to schools.

AB469 appears headed for approval, with a committee vote likely scheduled for Monday. Lawmakers held a rare joint hearing last week and showed unity in supporting the dramatic overhaul of the school district. Skorkowsky provided the sole opposition to the bill during the hearing.

Despite the district’s concerns with the reorganization, it has been rushing to implement the plan by the upcoming school year. TSC² Group has been helping with that effort.

The bill’s sponsors include Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, Roberson and Anderson.

Feature photo caption: Clark County School District school buses line up to pick up special needs students at Variety School, 2800 E. Stewart Ave. on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2017.  Photo by Jeff Scheid.