Published Thursday, March 25, 2010 | 8:29 p.m.
Updated Thursday, March 25, 2010 | 9:10 p.m.
Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes announced tonight he will retire in August, after five years at the helm of the nation’s fifth-largest district.
The announcement, which follows several months of speculation as his contract is up for renewal in August, came near the close of the Clark County School Board’s regular meeting.
“Life is short and it’s getting late,” said Rulffes, who has been with the district 13 years. “Intellectually I believe this is the right thing to do. Emotionally it’s going to be very difficult to give up a job I love.”
Rulffes said he wanted to give the School Board sufficient time to launch a search for his replacement. His contract calls for 90 days notice of resignation.
Following Rulffes' announcement, School Board member Sheila Moulton said that Rulffes had improved accountability and community involvement.
"He's done a great job for our students and for the district," Moulton said. "He will be missed."
He was chosen as superintendent in January 2006, after serving about six months as interim chief following the resignation of Carlos Garcia. Rulffes previously was the district’s chief financial officer.
Rulffes’ timeline wasn’t unexpected. During his interview with School Board members during the superintendent search process, Rulffes, then 65, said if chosen for the post he would likely work three to five years.
Rulffes has children and grandchildren in Arizona and Washington State, and said he and his wife are looking forward to spending more time with them. He also said he hasn’t ruled out future professional opportunities, although he intends to maintain his Las Vegas residence.
Since 2006, students districtwide have made gains on standardized tests in reading, writing and mathematics. More students are passing the high school proficiency exams required for graduation. In 2009, the district’s dropout rate fell to 4.6 percent, the second consecutive year of decline. The district’s graduation rate has also slowly improved during Rulffes’ tenure, and stands at about 65 percent.
Rulffes said attending commencement ceremonies has been one of the highlights of his job, although he has mixed emotions when he looks out at the crowd of graduates.
“We should have at least a third more kids in those empty seats,” Rulffes said. “I wish I could stay and pursue that challenge.”
The School Board is expected to launch a nationwide search for Rulffes’ replacement. In 2006, the School Board interviewed six semi-finalists, with Rulffes as the one in-house candidate. The field was then narrowed to Rulffes and Eric Nadelstern, a veteran New York City Public Schools educator who later withdrew from consideration.
Whether the Clark County School District of 2010 will draw similar interest from potential chief executives remains to be seen. Four years ago the district boasted being the nation’s fastest-growing public school system, hiring thousands of new teachers annually and opening at least five new campuses each fall. Today, the district’s enrollment is declining, and severe budget cuts have resulted in slashed programs, less funding for schools and layoffs.
In 2009, the superintendent took a voluntary 10 percent pay cut, reducing his base pay to $276,300 from $307,000.
He is also entitled to sell back some of his unused vacation and sick days.
The 2011 Legislature will be critical for public education, as school funding formulas are likely to be in the spotlight as the state grapples with an anticipated $3 billion deficit. That’s one of the reasons why he wants the next chief executive to be established by the time the Legislature convenes, Rulffes said.
If the School Board requested it, Rulffes said he is willing to stay on a few months into the 2010-11 academic year.
“This is a case of where there’s no good time to leave,” Rulffes said. “The best I can do is give the district time to make a smooth transition to the next person.”