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School District Dustup Raises Questions (Subscriber Content)

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
Board President Katy Simon Holland. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Board President Katy Simon Holland. Image: Ty O’Neil.

The Washoe County School District continues to frame Traci Davis’ abrupt leave of absence as business as usual. Multiple indicators, however, suggest that’s far from reality. Two of Davis’ top administrators, Byron Green and David Lasic, were allegedly let go just about the same time this week, something the district only acknowledged when questioned on Tuesday.

KTVN’s Landon Miller reported that Davis appears to be moving, and KRNV’s Joe Hart reported that Davis, Green, Lasic’s emails were disabled Monday evening. The partial screengrab below suggests this is the case.

Most suggested that this a clear indication that Davis’ tenure with the school district is over.

“Her leave of absence is about buying time,” one source said.

If, as Simon Holland told ThisisReno, this is a routine leave of absence, why was Davis’ email disabled? Why does she appear to be moving? Why did Simon Holland hold press interviews Tuesday with the district’s legal counsel in the room? Why did the district send out a news release announcing Davis’ leave?

Simon Holland yesterday said that there were never any discussions with board members and Davis about her performance, nor was there any effort to determine a cause to fire her. She also said that that last she heard from Davis was an email notification of going on leave.

“We’re hoping to hear from her soon,” she said. Right now, “it’s business as usual.”

When asked if there were any legal negotiations between Davis and WCSD, Simon Holland said she could not speak to that.

The board policy appointing an acting superintendent in Davis’ place says that the acting superintendent shall communicate with the superintendent during the absence. But Simon Holland’s response to why Davis’ email was also disabled Monday — even though she’s still the superintendent — was cryptic.

“Well, she’s gone,” Simon Holland said.

A Possible Reason

ThisisReno has also learned that these sudden departures could stem from the district’s battle against former administrator Jenny (Ricci) Hunt. A possible reason is that something related to the case arose as part of the discovery process in Hunt’s lawsuit against the district.

Hunt has complaints against the district that include sexual discrimination and retaliation. When she was placed on leave, so too was Green.

The matter was first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal‘s Siobhan McAndrew.

Emails obtained since then show that the district was challenged by Green over how it was handling the investigation into complaints that principals had with Hunt and Green.

WCSD hired private detective agency Grate Detections for an investigation. In addition, the human resources consulting firm Solutions At Work was hired as part of the investigation into special education, and Holland & Hart was hired in 2017 to investigate a staff complaint.

The Reno Gazette-Journal won a court battle against the district for the release of the Solutions At Work report. A judge ordered the report’s release, but the school board last year voted unanimously to appeal that verdict. Court records show that RGJ settled with the district, but Editor Brian Duggan said that they are still in settlement and are trying to have the report made public. He told ThisisReno yesterday that they hope to have an update soon.

After these investigations, a local law firm last year requested public records about Green, including “communications to or from Dr. Green regarding … complaints about Dr. Green and Ms. Ricci, and communications between David Lasic, Dr. Green, and/or Ms. Ricci regarding the above-mentioned investigation.” (It is not clear on whose behalf the firm was requesting the information.)

Kristen McNeill, deputy superintendent, Washoe County School District.
Kristen McNeill,
deputy superintendent,
Washoe County
School District.

In one of those emails, Green complained about the Solutions At Work investigation to Deputy Superintendent Kristen McNeill, who is now acting superintendent.

“I still don’t understand how I can be placed on administrative leave for now 5 weeks, attend an investigatory interview, and not know the allegations against me. In the letter from Solutions at Work, it stated that, ‘I will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations,'” Green wrote in May 2017. “At the investigatory meeting, I asked for the list of allegations and was informed that they did not have a list of allegations against me and it was in the investigatory period. I have not had any due process rights.”

Green further complained about what he said were inappropriate questions about his living situation and personal relationship with Davis.

McNeill responded and told him not to put such information in emails.

“I am not at liberty to discuss the investigation. I do know that the investigation is moving towards closure,” McNeill replied. “I know this is a very difficult time and situation, but also please understand that the investigation is confidential and you should not be emailing me the questions you were asked or have any discussions with any district employee about this.”

Green forwarded McNeill’s response to his personal Yahoo email address.

Green Also Filed a Complaint

Green filed a letter of complaint after that round of emails. The school district’s legal counsel, Neil Rombardo, mentioned a binder from Green with more than 300 pages of information, allegedly supportive of Green’s concerns.

“This Office recently gained access to the contents of the ‘binder’ from the external investigator and began reviewing the information contained therein,” Rombardo wrote to Green. “Your ‘binder’ contents appear to be in excess of 300 pages, and although it has emails from various individuals named in your June 7, 2017 letter, nowhere do you provide specific allegations as stated in the letter or clearly express that you are filing a Staff Complaint pursuant to (district rules).”

An email by Green in November 2017 to McNeill noted what he called “a hostile work environment.”

He was referencing the Washoe School Principals Association, which had lodged complaints against Green and Hunt’s handling of special education matters. Green said the WSPA’s concerns amounted to poor communication and principals not cooperating with the district’s special education office. He vehemently defended Hunt to McNeill.

Attorney Anthony Hall also investigated claims, according to heavily redacted invoices, including a complaint filed with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission. Hall was at Holland & Hart at the time and is now representing WCSD against Hunt’s lawsuit working for another firm. Hall is also conducting investigations into Area Superintendent Lauren Ford Baxter’s and Trina Olsen’s complaints.

The name of the complainant for that investigation conducted by Hall was redacted by WCSD’s legal office. Invoices indicate a settlement may have been reached in February 2018.

District records also show that Holland & Hart was paid $53,435 in 2017-18. Grate Detections was paid nearly $16,000. The Solutions At Work investigation cost the district about $53,000.

What is clear from this case is that the district is doing its best to try to keep these matters from becoming public.

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