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Public invited to hear legal issues

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

Douglas County voters interested in learning more about the legality of a teacher serving on the school board can attend a special meeting at the Carson Valley Middle School Library Thursday and sort through the law along with the school board.

School board trustees and district lawyer Bob Cox will answer questions about potential legal implications of a teacher elected to the school board.

Douglas High School teacher Randy Green was denied an appointment to the board in 1998 when a lawyer said his opinion of the Nevada Revised Statute was that a teacher could not sit on the board.

Green and his lawyer, George Keele, will also be at the meeting Thursday at 6 p.m.

Green sought a legal opinion from the local district attorney’s office which said there is no law against a teacher running for the school board, but doesn’t say whether he could serve if he wins.

NRS 386.305 states, “A member of any board of trustees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by the board of trustees of which he is a member.”

But, according to school board President Don Forrester, there is no state Supreme Court decision on the issue, because the two other teachers who attempted to press the issue backed down before the case reached that level.

“I suggested to Pendery (Clark, DCSD superintendent) that we have an open meeting and present all this stuff to the public. We are just trying to figure out what the law is. It is complicated. Half the business we deal with is about teacher contracts. When we deal with grievances, that involves teacher contracts,” Forrester said.

School board member John Raker, Green’s opponent, said the board decided after Green received 50 percent of the votes in the primary election, that there is a real possibility they will have to deal with a legal battle.

Raker said he thinks the board is in agreement that a teacher should not be allowed to serve.

“We all agree we think it is a conflict of interest. When Randy applied, during the interview process, many of the board members indicated at that time they felt there was a conflict of interest – as a result, there was a 6-0 vote for me. If he were not a teacher, he would be a real asset for the board, but there is a conflict of interest,” Raker said. “I would love for the public to come (to the Thursday night meeting). I think the worst case scenario would be Randy wins, he goes through this big legal battle, he loses, and then we are back to a selection process. In the meantime, the board has been operating with one less board member. We need to address this before it becomes a reality.”

Green said he is not sure what to expect.

“I’m not sure, I was just invited. I was approached by two members who asked if I would be interested in attending a meeting to possibly resolve this before we get into litigation. I said, ‘Sure.’ I’m not interested in taking this to litigation,” Green said. “So, we’re just going to listen. I’m not sure what they want to do at this point. I knew I was putting myself in a situation to go through this, but at this point, I still feel comfortable I’m right. I just don’t believe they’ll change my mind.”

Green said he wants Cox to explain to him why board members whose spouses are employed by the school district are not considered to have a financial interest in those employee contracts.

Board member Randy Wallstrum’s wife Anita is a long-time Douglas County teacher.

“If they have consistently violated the law by their interpretation that spouses of employees can serve on the board, why can’t I have the same status of those people?” Green said.

Green explained that he has 23 years with the district, and after 20 years, no longer receives raises except for cost-of-living raises and changes within all teachers’ contracts.

“There isn’t much interest (in the contract) a person can have as long as they’ve reached that 20-year plateau. There is no additional compensation for seniority. You get the same pay you got before. I would receive some compensation as part of the contract that was signed, but I would just be one member of a seven-member board and I am just one teacher. You have to conclude I didn’t profoundly affect that in any way,” Green said.

Board Vice President Cheri Johnson said board attorney Cox has worked for other school districts who have faced this legal battle.

Johnson said she likes Green as a person and as a teacher, but does feel there is a conflict of interest for him to serve on the board.

“He’s been an exemplary employee and teacher. All of us as parents love having our kids in his class. I do think it would be a conflict of interest, but we need to get our facts straight. I hate to see anyone abstain from voting, that’s not why you’re on the board,” Johnson said. “It’s not fair to Randy or the voters. He’s a citizen and has every right under law to sit on the board, except the law in the NRS that says teachers cannot be board members.”

Forrester said he thought Green would make a good board member, but setting that precedent could cause the board to face even bigger problems.

“If Randy can run, (the Teacher association president) Marty Cronin can run, and then we have the head of the teacher’s union on the board,” Forrester said. “Whether we get it resolved or make an agreement, we just need to get started now. I haven’t seen the legal opinion from our attorney.”