Published Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 12:33 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 9:56 p.m.
After twice approving a national search for its next superintendent, the Clark County School Board did an about-face on Wednesday by tabling a negotiated contract with a search firm indefinitely – essentially abandoning a national search for now.
The issue: For the past three weeks, the Clark County School District has been negotiating with Omaha-based McPherson and Jacobson to conduct a national search for former Superintendent Dwight Jones’ replacement.
Early last month, Jones abruptly announced his resignation to care for his elderly mother in Dallas. School Board members appointed Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky as interim superintendent starting March 23.
After weeks of back-and-forth negotiations with McPherson and Jacobson, School Board members were expected to vote on the $48,200 contract today.
The vote: The board voted 6-1 to table a decision on the contract. School Board member Linda Young was the sole dissenting vote.
What it means: Despite two nearly-unanimous votes approving a national search in the past month, the School Board was split on the idea Wednesday after immense pushback from community members.
The majority of school board members seemed hesitant about conducting a national search at this time. They wanted to wait for more community input before making a decision on the contract.
School Board member Lorraine Alderman said after two years of fast-paced education reform efforts, district employees and parents need "stability." She urged her fellow board members to hold off on the national search, saving money.
"This boat is not sinking," Alderman said, echoing Jones' oft-stated metaphor of turning a large ship. "There's nothing wrong with the boat."
School Board member Linda Young warned of "carpetbagger" superintendents in the past, but later said she did not mean Jones. Since the beginning, Young seemed uncomfortable about "rushing" into a national superintendent search, calling it a "distraction" from the legislative agenda, school testing and upcoming graduation ceremonies.
"Let's give people a chance to catch their breath," Young said. "Let's stabilize this process. I want the process opened up (to the public)."
However, School Board members Erin Cranor, Carolyn Edwards and Deanna Wright were in support of conducting a national search immediately. They argued the School Board ought to find Jones’ replacement as soon as possible – targeting an October to December deadline – and choose the best candidate from a large pool of applicants.
Wright said she was frustrated because she believed the board had made up its mind two weeks ago when it unanimously voted to continue contract negotiations with McPherson and Jacobson. She added that the district still has much work to do to raise student achievement.
"Jones, he wasn't done (changing the district)," Wright said. "We're not done. To say that the reforms that Jones put in place, yeah, we need to continue those, but we need to continue past that."
School Board President Edwards tried hard to sway her fellow board members on the merits of a national search – but to no avail. Regardless of the timeframe, the board must choose its next superintendent, and the search firm is a natural first step, she said.
If the School Board limits the superintendent search locally, Edwards said there would be doubts about whether the board hired the best superintendent for the district's 311,000 children.
"Student achievement is our goal. That is our bottom line and we are not straying from that," Edwards said. "We were moving in the right direction and we can't go back to a status quo. We can't let these balls we had in the air drop because this is important."
Many community members — including former First Lady Sandy Miller and members of the teachers union — urged School Board members to appoint Interim Superintendent Skorkowsky as Jones’ permanent replacement. At one point, School Board members considered giving Skorkowsky a year — or the rest of Jones' one and a half year contract — to prove himself. Skorkowsky has 25 years of experience in the district, rising through the ranks from first-grade teacher to deputy superintendent.
Other business leaders, such as the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, pushed for the School Board to conduct a national search. They argued the district should look broadly for its next superintendent.
Tensions ran high as School Board members debated whether to approve a contract with McPherson and Jacobson. Throughout the heated three-hour discussion, several School Board members traded barbs with each other, which was uncharacteristic of a board that has largely been unanimous in its decisions.
Most notably, strained relations between previous board president Young and current board president Edwards – which had been brewing for months – seemed to reach an all-time high on Wednesday.
Young bristled at Edwards several times during the tense debate, pursing her lips and shaking her head.
"You don't need to correct me publicly," Young said, fuming, after Edwards told her not to shake her head. "Don't call me out like that."
The School District plans to issue an online survey, as well as conduct 12 community meetings in April and May to seek public input on the next superintendent.
On May 20, the School Board is expected to vote on whether to conduct a national search for the next superintendent or to keep Skorkowsky as permanent superintendent.