The Washoe County school board is once again drawing criticism, this time for its handling of Superintendent Traci Davis’ employment contract.
The board apparently did not realize the full extent of the negative public-relations buzz saw that would be created by the contract, which it approved on a 5-2 vote two weeks ago. It should have.
Rather than fully explaining the need for some of the contract’s questionable provisions, several board members spoke in generalities about Davis and expressed their indignation with a newspaper (not the Sparks Tribune) for stirring up public outrage by making a huge math error in a preview story on the agreement.
Their reaction to the newspaper mistake and their positive feelings about Davis’ performance are understandable.
But what’s hard to comprehend is their failure to recognize that taxpayers may rightfully have a skeptical view of Davis’ contract considering the district’s significant financial woes and that the board has a duty to make sure the district spends every one of its tax dollars prudently.
One parent reminded the board that schools are so strapped for cash that they can’t afford to pay for crossing guards.
While we obviously have no qualms about Davis being fairly compensated, we have some questions about a few provisions of her contract that still deserve adequate answers by our elected school board members:
Why should taxpayers hand over $5,000 to the superintendent for her costs in hiring a lawyer to negotiate the contract?
Sure the amount isn’t much, but the message it sends is huge. We’ve heard it’s because that’s been the practice with prior contracts. But that’s clearly not an adequate reason. The board didn’t discuss the legal reimbursement when it approved the contract.
Why should taxpayers give the superintendent $800 a month for using her own vehicle when she could use a car from the district’s fleet of vehicles for business travel? Again, the board didn’t discuss the need for this, although board member Nick Smith expressed his opposition.
Why should taxpayers foot the bill for additional pay for Davis covering the time she was interim superintendent from October 2014 until July of this year when the board gave her the job on a permanent basis?
Davis accepted the interim job at yearly salary of about $184,000. The board, however, agreed to apply her new yearly base salary of $238,000 retroactively to the period when she was interim superintendent. Smith and fellow board member Veronica Frenkel were right in opposing this unnecessary and wasteful back pay. Frenkel correctly noted that the new contract, and thereby Davis’ new salary, began in July when she was named permanent superintendent, not when she got the interim job.
Why should the board go out of its way to commend Davis for agreeing that the contract should not be automatically renewed when it expires? Just because that sensible provision protecting taxpayers has been noticeably absent in prior contracts is no reason to celebrate its inclusion in Davis’ agreement.
The school board, by neglecting to answer these questions fully in a public meeting, has left taxpayers with no choice but to wonder who’s representing them at the negotiating table when their dollars are at stake.