The name game

Karen Gray

The Clark County school board has a reputation of filling its regular board meetings with a lot of pomp and circumstance.  But on January 8, 2009, pomp and ceremony was entirely appropriate as the board took a break from its recent aversion to anything military.


In ceremonial style, the board honored military veterans employed by the Clark County School District.  Awards were presented, stories of loved ones who served in the military were shared and tears of gratitude and honor fell.  The audience stood in ovation, applauding respectfully and thankfully for the veterans and families who dedicate their lives to the defense and protection of our country.


To round out the evening of recognition, the board unanimously voted to bestow upon a soon-to-open technical high school the name: “Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy.” 


All’s well that ends well, right?  Unfortunately, no.


Even before Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy opens its doors, it already bears a burden—the board’s history and behavior on this issue.


Over the last two years, Phil Randazzo and others worked diligently to convince a clearly resistant board to memorialize the sacrifices of Southern Nevada veterans through the naming. Veterans Memorial was the name regularly offered by the advocates. Yet, for some unknown reason, what they regularly received from the board seemed a militant indifference, when not a discernible hostility. Speculations regarding the reason why include personal vendettas, previous insider board history on the name Veterans Memorial and possible student taunting using the nickname “Memorial Mummies.”


Randazzo and the others had gone through the full application and school-naming process. They, as required, solicited letters of support—and hundreds of such letters came, including some from Nevada’s U.S. representatives. Required to give in-person testimonials at board meetings, the advocates did—with so many of them present it was standing-room only. All opportunities to meet and converse with board members and staff were pursued.  Advocates even waited patiently through a dubious, year-long “policy revision,” just to ensure that the name Veterans Memorial would finally make it onto the school board agenda.


After all that, the CCSD board didn’t even deign to discuss the name the advocates had long pursued, Veterans Memorial. Instead, ignoring the long efforts of the advocates, board members summarily adopted another name—Veterans Tribute—that some apparently had agreed upon out of public view. Given the evident violations of Nevada’s open meeting law, say some advocates, a formal complaint to the attorney general is being considered.


A review of the agenda and video from the board meeting does suggest that an open meeting law violation may have occurred. It also appears plausible that the violation was intentional.


The January 8, 2009 agenda stated: “Discussion and possible action on approval to name a school the Veterans Memorial Central Career and Technical Academy, is recommended.” The back-up material even says the school naming committee recommends the Veterans Memorial name. However, in the entire 11-and-a-half-minute discussion, the board never held one discussion or took one motion regarding the name Veterans Memorial.


In fact, the video reveals that trustee Sheila Moulton immediately moved for discussion and a vote on naming the school Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy. Moulton noted that in mid-December she, trustee Terri Janison and then-trustee-elect Linda Young met with four veterans from the community. At the meeting—to which Randazzo and the original supporters were not invited—the name “Veterans Tribute” was selected. Moulton acknowledged that, yes, it was the name Veterans Memorial on the board’s agenda, but she asserted, board members can name a school whatever they choose, assuring that a school name does not have to go through the district’s official school-naming process. Apparently, that rule only applies to Randazzo or Veterans Memorial.


In an e-mail response to queries, school district officials state that the School Naming Committee serves “in an advisory role,” and that naming the technical academy as they did “was the prerogative of the board.”


Perhaps it is the prerogative of the board to name a school whatever it chooses. Or to jettison a name that for two years was dragged through CCSD procedures. Or even to adopt a name that bypassed all procedures and just came to light three weeks prior. The board may even do this to settle personal vendettas, to avoid school mascot taunts or just because it can. But what it cannot do, and what is not within its prerogative, is to tell the public it will consider one name for approval and then approve another.


It is clear that the name Veterans Tribute was under consideration well in advance of the January 8 meeting. The name was not merely a result of board discussion, but rather, a conscientious recommendation with forethought. Therefore, it should have been placed alongside Veterans Memorial on the agenda, allowing for public notice and comment.  Alternatively, the board should have voted down Veterans Memorial and agendized Veterans Tribute for another day.


By not doing so, the Clark County school board once again shows disregard for its own procedures and for Nevada’s open meeting laws. Not only do its actions bring controversy to the honor bestowed upon Nevada’s veterans, but they have also tarnished the legacy that will be Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy.


Even before the doors open.

Karen Gray is an education researcher at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.