Board votes to go forward on WCSD superintendent negotiations

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WASHOE COUNTY, Nev. (KOLO) - The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees has voted to move forward on contract negotiations with superintendent Traci Davis. The unanimous vote was mostly procedural as the details of the contract could not be discussed during Tuesday's meeting.

"That doesn't obligate the board to enter into contract, and it doesn't obligate the superintendent to accept the contract," Washoe County School Board president Katy Simon Holland said.

The vote was a required step per Davis' current contract which expires June 30. It was stressed multiple times during the meeting that the vote doesn't mean negotiations will end in a contract. At any point, either party can drop out of the negotiations if they are unhappy with the way negotiations are headed.

But there were some members of the public who felt negotiations shouldn't happen at all. A handful of people asked the board to let Davis' contract expire, saying she hasn't been effective in the position. Malia Puchta, who has three students in the school district, asked the board to open a search nationwide for a replacement.

"Do it the right way," she said. "Take applications, hold interviews, and if in the end [Davis] is the best choice for the district, so be it. But without looking at all of the options I think you are being irresponsible."

However most of the opposition had to do with Davis' compensation. According to the district, Davis' base salary, including benefits, is $386,212, but an accounting error put Davis' 2017 salary at $412,000.

"Regardless of the individual, whoever the superintendent is, does not matter to me," one woman told the board. "It matters not. I don't care who the superintendent is, but I don't feel given the performance evaluation of 2017 that the board should renew this contract."

In November 2017, the board ranked Davis' performance as accomplished, despite a third-party review rating her performance as minimally effective. Holland points to things such as improved graduation rates as an indicator of Davis' success, but those against renewing Davis' contract say that credit is misplaced.

"It is the teachers that are improving the graduation rate, not Traci Davis," another woman told the board. "Do not rehire [her]. Find someone who does not cost an arm and a leg."

Before the vote, Trustee Debra Feemster made a length speech in defense of Davis.

"I have never seen a superintendent work harder, be more accessible, respond to parent," she said.

Feemster went on to say, as a minority, her experience in the district has not always been a positive one.

"Let's look at her performance," she said. "I know what I went through in this district. It was real. I know what my kids went through. It was real. I just hope we are looking at a person and looking beyond, and I'm sorry I'm going in this direction, but my heart is telling me to go into that direction, let's look beyond Traci Davis." Feemster made that last comment while gesturing to her own face.

Puchta was just one of several people who took offense to the speech, believing Feemster was implying their opposition was racially motivated.

"I'm not white," she said. "I know what it's like to be discriminated against. I don't think it's fair to say the public holds the opinion that it holds because Traci Davis is black. Why not because she's a woman? There's so many different things you can say people don't like about because she doesn't do a good job? That should be a valid enough reason."

In an interview after the meeting, Feemster says she only spoke up because Davis wasn't at the meeting to defend herself.

"I don't want anyone thinking I interjected race here," she said. "I interjected the person and sometimes we do look at the person and judge them."

The board has hired outside counsel to assist with the negotiations. Holland says those will include salary, and that the public will be included in every decision.