State education officials make case for why the school district reorganization should proceed in court filing

State education officials allege the Clark County School Board of Trustees violated the Open Meeting Law by not publicly voting on whether to file a lawsuit regarding the state-mandated reorganization plan, according to a new court document.

The Nevada Department of Education and State Board of Education — represented by the Nevada attorney general’s office — filed their opposition to the trustees’ motion for a preliminary injunction Friday in Carson City District Court. The allegation about the Open Meeting Law violation is just one of multiple arguments made by state officials for why the school district reorganization should move forward.

The court filing is the latest action in the ongoing saga stemming from Assembly Bill 394, which passed in the final minutes of the 2015 legislative session and authorized an advisory legislative committee to develop a plan to reorganize the Clark County School District.

The school trustees filed a lawsuit Dec. 21 regarding the reorganization plan, which decentralizes district operations and hands more budgetary and decision-making power to individual schools. Their lawsuit contained a number of allegations, including that the advisory committee exceeded the authority granted to it, the reorganization is an unfunded mandate, and that it doesn’t adequately address student achievement.

The school district has been racing to implement the reorganization by the next academic year, but last month, the trustees filed a motion for preliminary injunction to halt the process.

State education officials respond to that motion in their opposition filing, which outlines why they believe the trustees’ lawsuit is invalid and why the reorganization should proceed. Among their reasons:

  • The trustees’ lawsuit, they argue, is void because of the Open Meeting Law. “There is no public record from the Trustees’ public meetings demonstrating that they publicly voted to file the instant lawsuit,” the opposition states. “This civil action is void.”
  • The State Board of Education adopted the reorganization regulations based on a plan developed by an advisory legislative committee, which received input from the trustees and other stakeholders.
  • Because the Nevada Department of Education has not adopted funding weights for all categories of students with extra needs, the trustees argued that the school district cannot comply with the reorganization regulations, which call for it to use a weighted funding formula; however, state education officials have told the school district that it can seek variances for those categories of students in which the department has not established weights.
  • State education officials argue that the trustees’ request for a new human capital management system, which could cost anywhere between $13 million to $40 million, does not invalidate the reorganization.  “Assuming arguendo that the Trustees are correct in their assessment that CCSD’s data systems amount to a crisis, the persistent inability of the Trustees to devote somewhere between one half a percent and two percent of their budget to address this crisis may reinforce the legislature’s wisdom in passing AB 394 and pushing more autonomy away from the Trustees and toward the local precincts,” the court filing states.
  • State education officials argue that requirement for the school district to transfer 80 percent of its unrestricted funds to the schools is a reasonable request. “The Trustees admit that they are able to achieve the 80 percent requirement, thus their objection is not based on feasibility,” according to the court filing, which also alleges that trustees seem “particularly averse” to releasing any financial information as required by the reorganization regulations.
  • The State Board of Education was authorized by the advisory legislative committee to adopt regulations stipulating that the school district implement the reorganization by the 2017-2018 school year.
  • State education officials dismiss the trustees’ claim that the reorganization is an unfunded mandate for several reasons, including that the school district has not provided specific explanation for why the reorganization would cost “millions of dollars” beyond what it currently spends.

The court filing also included strong language about the seven school board members in its plea for a judge to deny their motion.

"The public interest is furthered by the Court rejecting the Trustees' efforts to retain their centralized power and financial clout at the expense of local interests and denying this Motion," the court filing states. "Stakeholders across Clark County and the State have come together to give their children improved educational opportunities and to allow the Trustees to stand in the way of that progress would be manifestly against the public policy."

When reached by phone Friday night, Trustee Carolyn Edwards said the board plans to review the recent court filing and submit a response to the court.

Edwards said the trustees also plan to attend a Nevada Department of Education hearing later this month that will address the reorganization regulations.

“If we can resolve this through that process, that would be great,” she said. “But we will continue to do what we need to do through the courts as well.”

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