School district drops its reorganization lawsuit but may file a new one

The Clark County School District announced Thursday that it will drop its lawsuit over the state-mandated reorganization plan — at least for the time being. The dismissal comes after state officials alleged the lawsuit’s filing violated the Open Meeting Law.

The move is the latest in the back-and-forth between the nation’s fifth-largest school district and state officials who made and adopted the plan, which decentralizes the district’s operations and hands more budgeting and decision-making power to the schools.

The school district’s Board of Trustees filed a lawsuit in December against the Nevada Department of Education and State Board of Education. The lawsuit argued that the legislative advisory committee that developed the reorganization plan exceeded the authority granted to it, the reorganization is an unfunded mandate and that it doesn’t adequately address student achievement. The trustees then filed a motion for preliminary injunction in late January to halt the process.

The state attorney general’s office, which is representing the Nevada Department of Education and State Board of Education, filed an opposition response last week to the motion for the preliminary injunction. The opposition response states that the school district’s lawsuit should be considered void because the trustees did not publicly vote on filing it.

Earlier this week, the Nevada Legislature joined the fracas and filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in the district’s lawsuit. At the same time, the Legislature filed its own opposition to the motion for preliminary injunction as well as a motion to dismiss the school district’s lawsuit.

The Legislature’s opposition to the preliminary injunction also centers around the alleged Open Meeting Violation and argues that the trustees do not possess the “statutory power” to sue in their own governmental name.

School officials said the district’s general counsel was voluntarily dismissing the current lawsuit and will seek authorization in an open meeting to file a new one.

"The district is not interested in litigating arguments about Open Meeting Law, which is a distraction to the important issue at hand — educating our students,” the school district’s general counsel, Carlos McDade, said in a statement. “Our goal in this lawsuit is to avoid harming students and schools while we implement the reorganization.”

Even so, McDade maintained that the trustees did not violate the Open Meeting Law by filing the lawsuit without a public vote.

"While the Nevada Attorney General has recently argued that such authority may violate the Open Meeting Law without direct approval by the Board of Trustees in an open meeting, there is nothing in the Attorney General Manual or Nevada Law that requires such approval and our actions in this case were lawful,” he said in the statement.

District officials vowed to continue working with state officials to improve the regulation that describes how the reorganization must be implemented.

School district leaders and trustees plan to discuss the reorganization with state officials Monday at a public workshop, where tweaks to the regulation will be considered. Trustees’ concerns about the weighted funding formula and transfer of funds from central services to local schools are among the issues up for discussion.

“It would be nice if we could have a meaningful discussion on the three items they have put on the agenda,” Trustee President Deanna Wright said. “We have significant other issues that still need to be addressed.”

Caption: The Clark County School District administrative offices on Monday, Jan 16, 2017. Photo by Sam Morris.