By Don Dike Anukam & Bob Conrad
Many community members are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief now that Traci Davis is no longer superintendent of the Washoe County School District. The school board today voted 6 to 1 — Jacqueline Calvert was the lone nay vote — to sever the embattled superintendent’s contract with the district.
“I feel what we did today was in the best interest of the district,” said Trustee Andrew Caudill. “It has been a difficult time period and a difficult day, but the evidence against the former Superintendent was overwhelming.”
Deputy Superintendent Kristen McNeill was named interim superintendent. She vowed to move the district forward and to start a healing process.
School Board President Katy Simon Holland said that the district is committed to accountability, transparency, and improved communication now that Davis is out.
But multiple requests for information to the district went unanswered last week. Despite a document dump — including dozens of text messages by two former administrators — of what the school district’s attorney called incontrovertible evidence showing wrongdoing by Davis, a public records order for Holland’s emails and texts was met today with an estimate of $1,500.
It’s the first time WCSD has ever attempted to secure payment from ThisisReno for public records.
“This estimated fee is based on the actual cost incurred by the district and does not exceed fifty cents per page,” said WCSD paralegal Breanne Reid.
In addition, the district’s PR officials did not respond to a number of questions last week, including whether now interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill had a personal relationship that would interfere with her placement in her new position.
She did. She admitted it today while giving testimony to the board. She said she changed reporting structures because the budget director is her fiance.
District’s Actions Criticized
The district’s handling of Davis’ termination received allegations of racism from commenters speaking in her defense.
Verita Prothro questioned the district’s handling of the matter. The district shut down administrative offices last week after Davis said she was going to return to work after she went on leave.
“From what I’ve seen and read … it seems like a lot of hearsay,” Prothro said. “This looks bad in the community. Closing the district looked petty, and quite frankly, it looked racist. You would think that Ms. Davis was going to come in and do something horrible when there wasn’t anything in her past that suggests something like that would happen.” (Hear more from Prothro below.)
Holland denied any charges of racism.
Davis today said that she will be taking the matter to court.
“The process is important,” she said. “It will be great to present this in court in front of a judge.”
Davis’ supporters said that community criticism of her was unfair, including her salary, which was below that of her predecessors. Others, however, noted a toxic, bullying environment within the district that was filtering down to teachers.
Extensively documented low morale in the district was brought up more than once.
Going to Court
Davis’ attorney Bill Peterson said that they will be filing a lawsuit in district court this month.
“We’re going to a fair and neutral court,” he said. Today’s hearing, he added, was “unfair and biased.”
Part of that bias, he said, are documents that were referenced during today’s board meeting that have not been made public.
“Two of the trustees mentioned that they got two different documents. They both described it as attorney work product or some kind of attorney communication,” he told ThisisReno. “None of that was provided to us.”
Peterson also disputed the board’s knowledge of when alleged leaks occurred. Recently fired administrator Byron Green had a settlement agreement with the district in March of 2018.
Peterson said that the settlement shows WCSD knew that information was being leaked as far back as 2017. The agreement noted that Green was being investigated concerning:
“(a) the source of information Dr. Green had concerning a personnel matter between Dr. McNeill and her assistant; (b) communications concerning the conclusions of the Solutions at Work investigation to Dr. Green before it was final; (c) communications with Ms. Ricci about the issues and facts being investigated by Dustin Grate; and (d) documents used by Dr. Green in support of his public records request.”
“The knew about it,” Peterson continued. “They entered into an agreement in 2018, and the president of the board said that they were aware of that as early as 2017. They said, ‘oh, we only had suspicions.’
“Well, if they only had suspicions, why didn’t they follow up on the suspicions with the guy they were making a deal with?” Peterson asked.
McNeill, Green’s supervisor at the time, signed the settlement.
Community Leaders Respond
Don Dike Anukam spoke today with community leaders about the situation. Here are their responses.
Dr. Norris Dupree: “She inherited this.”
Dr. John Gwaltney: “These kinds of events create a circus.”
Lonnie Feemster (NAACP): “The students have been hurt.”
Verita Prothro: “I wish that it had been negotiated differently.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.