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September 2, 2014

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District fronts $132K for national STUCO conference; finger-pointing continues

Donations

  • Several community partners stepped up to help the Clark County School District host the 2013 National Association of Student Councils' leadership conference two weekends ago. Here is a list of the public donations that helped make the conference possible, totaling $3,500:
  • $950 worth of signs and pins: One Nevada Credit Union
  • $925 worth of thank-you notes to participants: Annabelle's Fine Stationary
  • $825 worth of playing cards to participants: Rick Donald of Boyd Gaming
  • $400 worth of welcome banners: Judy and Brad Beal
  • $200 cash donation: Silver State Schools Credit Union
  • $200 cash donation: Mike Levy of Levy Productions Group
  • There were also other donations, the value of which could not be determined at publication time.
  • Fashion Show Mall: 1,000 shopping coupon booklets to the mall
  • Nevada Commission on Tourism: 1,000 travel guides, park maps and state maps
  • Nevada State Museum: Free passes for student council members to return to the museum
  • U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman: Welcome letters and videos for participants

The Clark County School District spent nearly $132,000 on a national student council conference that was supposed to be largely funded by public donations, according to budget figures released Monday.

In late May, School District officials frantically lobbied the Clark County School Board for up to $100,000 in emergency money from the district's general fund to bail out the 2013 National Association of Student Councils conference.

Taxpayers were forced to pay for the conference after John Barlow, the former principal of Sunrise Mountain High School, failed to raise enough money to host the event, according to district officials.

Last spring, Barlow had agreed to host the national leadership conference, June 22-24, at Sunrise Mountain, which was recently named a "turnaround" school by the district. Barlow and several administrators were reassigned in March.

Although at least two high-ranking district officials knew of Sunrise Mountain's commitment, the School District feigned ignorance and blamed Barlow for failing to adequately plan for the conference, which was supposed to be funded by outside donations and fundraiser money.

District officials claimed Barlow failed to notify the proper authorities that the school might not reach its fundraising goals until late April. The School District is still investigating Barlow, who may face disciplinary action, according to district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson.

However, School Board member Chris Garvey approved Sunrise Mountain's application last year, even signing a letter of support backing Sunrise Mountain's ability to host the conference. Garvey was not supposed to sign the application without consent from the entire board, according to School Board President Carolyn Edwards.

Additionally, Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky – who was recently appointed to the position – knew of Sunrise Mountain's commitment to host the conference since at least late March, when he participated in a conference call with the national student council organization.

The School District attempted to disassociate itself from Sunrise Mountain High School after the Sun broke the story in late May. At the time, the School District argued it was not responsible for the mistakes of one of its employees.

"Being apprised of an event doesn't take the ownership and responsibility from the employee tasked with the event," Fulkerson said at the time, adding that the employee being investigated "dropped the ball."

Despite the six-week window to prepare for the national conference, the School District pulled off the event successfully, Skorkowsky told School Board members Thursday. Sunrise Mountain played host to nearly 900 student council members and advisers from 44 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico two weekends ago.

"We overcame those challenges in true Clark County School District form with every department and division pulling together to ensure success," Skorkowsky said, presenting certificates and commendation letters to several department heads on Thursday. "Staff did an amazing job to make this conference a memorable success for all of these students."

Student councils from across the country and world enjoyed the leadership conference, which highlighted Clark County and Las Vegas, Skorkowsky said. Nevada's delegation of 150 students and advisers represented less than a fifth of the conference’s participants.

Participants appreciated the School District's hospitality, which included food, transportation and facility space, and were excited for the opportunity to network with other students, Skorkowsky added.

"Truly, the energy in the room when I walked in Saturday (June 22) was something you could live off of for years," Skorkowsky said. "We had an opportunity to truly showcase what Clark County and the Las Vegas Valley was all about."

The School District spent $131,773 on the conference, according to budget figures released Monday.

Of that amount, the School District expects the National Association of Student Councils to reimburse about $72,000, per the organization's contract with Sunrise Mountain. The national organization has not yet approved and sent the reimbursement to the district, however.

The School District also relied on the generosity of community partners as well as donations from discretionary budgets of several local high school principals, which came to about $14,000. It is unknown how the principal donations will affect their school budgets next year.

In the end, the School District's burden to host the conference is about $42,273, which is less than the $50,000 cost projected by Edwards.

In light of the conference preparation debacle, the School District will study ways to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future, Fulkerson said.

"Now we will look at what can be done better if CCSD hosts national conferences in the future," she said in a text message.

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