On politics: Washoe County School District board to decide future of superintendent (opinion)
Washoe County School District (WCSD) Superintendent Traci Davis’ employment contract expires June 30 of this year. School trustees, who have a past history of wasteful mistakes in hiring and firing superintendents, have until April 1 to decide on what action to take.
Despite the trustees’ checkered history there is reason to believe that the worst is in the past. Several of the “gang that can’t shoot straight” were not reelected, a couple more announced they are not running again and they had the good collective sense to elect former Washoe County Manager Katy Holland as president of the board of trustees.
Holland had a long career with Washoe County and was known for efficiency and good judgment. Proof of the pudding is that the county’s real property tax rate remained unchanged during her tenure, something that can be said of very few other taxing agencies. After her retirement she chose to run for school board representing west Washoe County, including Incline Village and Crystal Bay.
In the lead up to consideration of Davis’ contract, Holland took the unusual step of hiring outside counsel to meet one-on-one, in private, with each board member to discuss feelings about the superintendent. Under Nevada law trustees’ thoughts can only be exchanged in a duly constituted public meeting but communications with counsel are apparently an exception.
In any case Superintendent Davis is one of Nevada’s highest paid public employees although to be fair a part of her reported compensation was to correct an error by the WCSD which overlooked contributions due her retirement account. According to Transparent Nevada, Davis’ 2016 base salary was $280,000 per year with benefits of $80,000 per year. So the board has to decide whether to renew her contract and if so, at what compensation.
The Reno Gazette Journal reported there are few objective data by which to measure Davis’ performance other than improvements to the WCSD graduation rate. That is unfortunate because Education Week just published an article captioned: “The Nationwide Problem of Fudging Graduation Numbers.”
The piece reports that historically there was no uniformity in how graduation rates were calculated. In 2008, federal regulations defined graduation rate as “that portion of each freshman class that earns a regular diploma four years later.” This got schools on the same page but “fudging” still occurred in districts where graduation rates became the metric (or one of the metrics) by which compensation and/or evaluations were measured.
Education Week reported that audits of some districts “found that seniors got diplomas even though they’d missed too much school to earn passing grades” and “that California and Alabama inflated their graduation rates by counting students that shouldn’t have been counted.” Other examples included teachers pressured to award passing grades to students not deserving them.
But even if WCSD’s graduation rate figures are totally accurate, district wide totals are, at best, questionable as the sole measure of a superintendent’s performance. ACE Charter School has a 96 percent graduation rate; both Bishop Manogue Catholic School and Sage Ridge private school have 100 percent graduation rates.
WCSD schools are required to accept all applicants and educate them with the funds the legislature determines. Poverty, English-learner and disabled students trail in academic scores and graduation rates. Why not include year-over-year improvements among these cohorts as a superintendent performance metric?
Additionally WCSD’s graduation rates don’t tell the whole story. The district’s website includes its “2016 Data Profile” which discloses that of its graduates who go on to enter the University of Nevada, Reno or Truckee Meadows Community College 53 percent are required to take remedial courses in English and/or mathematics.
School trustees have a gold mine of objective data by which to measure Superintendent Davis’ performance. It’s all on the WCSD website.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.