School trustees need schooling in trust

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Talk about sending exactly the wrong message.

It’s not as if the 9-month Washoe County School Superintendent, Traci Davis, is poorly paid with a starting salary of $238,000, equal to the salary awarded to her controversial predecessor, Pedro Martinez. In recent contract negotiations, she demanded and received $73,000 more in bonus cash, including some perks that are guaranteed to raise eyebrows and community ire.

Davis’ compensation package includes an $800 monthly car allowance plus mileage reimbursement since she declined to drive a district car as most superintendents have done. The taxpayers will also be paying her up to $5,000 in legal fees to make sure her contract meets her needs.

Nice work for a brand-new superintendent in a cash-starved, overcrowded and underperforming district preparing to ask taxpayers for more money next year.

But there were two other provisions awarded that make us seriously wonder about the common sense of the five school board members who voted for the new contract. The optics are horrendous.

Davis will complete five months in her new job on Dec. 15, hardly enough time to demonstrate her worth or lack thereof. Nevertheless, she will receive an $11,900 “longevity bonus” for her sacrifice in accepting the position and sticking with it for five months.

Davis also asked that her $238,000 salary level be made retroactive to the moment she took over as interim superintendent, despite already having received a 24 percent boost in pay when she accepted the interim assignment. Five school board members thought her demand was justified, adding another $38,000 in jaw-dropping instant cash to her pocket. Trustees Nick Smith and Veronica Frenkel voted against the contract.

Within a week, the school board was spinning its decision in an unconvincing email to parents, claiming it actually saved money because Davis has been doing her old job along with the new. But the PR catastrophe can’t be undone.

Remember that Davis was hired without a national search or consideration of other candidates after the school board experienced a very public meltdown amid several violations of the open meeting laws when firing Martinez after he received an excellent performance review.

I don’t know Davis but have harbored some uneasiness about her because she was the protege of Martinez, who emerged from the Broad Superintendents Academy, a controversial corporate-sponsored training program. But I do know that any success in raising graduation rates and improving student performance will owe much more to the principals, teachers, counselors, and other school staff who work directly with our kids. It’s hard to see how Davis can effectively inspire the rank and file when she is perceived as greedy and more interested in egregious contract demands than selling the community on the district’s needs.

The challenges the school district faces in the next few years are tremendous, as subsidy-infused corporations bring thousands of new workers and their families to Reno under the trickle-down theory that these new jobs will provide plenty of tax revenue to fund new schools. The public perception that our superintendent is more focused on taking care of her own financial situation is adding fuel to an already simmering fire of resentment that the Pollyannas of economic development refuse to acknowledge in their state of denial boosterism.

Adding insult to injury, when citizens complained about the new contract, School Board President John Mayer was quoted by the Reno Gazette-Journal telling them what a great role model she is for girls. He complimented her attire, stating “This lady always looks nice.”

Davis deserves to be judged on far more than her choice of clothing. Unfortunately, she now has to contend with a furious public wondering why our kids have come up short once again.