Trips to recruit CCSD teachers, legitimate go, or junkets?

LAS VEGAS, NV (KTNV) — It’s a harsh reality that our school district, the nation’s 5th largest, continues to face a critical teacher shortage with well over a thousand vacancies in valley classrooms.

13 Investigates reveals the district might also be short on oversight when it comes to spending your tax dollars on recruitment travel.

For several months, we’ve been investigating allegations of waste when it comes to traveling to recruit teachers. The process has been painful, with CCSD only painting a partial picture, sending us incomplete documentation, and failing to answer follow-up questions. In fact, we’re still waiting on information the district says it needs until next week to provide. In this report, we look at some of the exotic locales where district employees have been traveling to recruit with dismal results.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but in the Clark County School District, cash apparently can grow wings.

“From everything that you’ve shown me and everything that I’ve seen. I don’t know where the buck stops,” says Dr. Sondra Cosgrove, an education advocate and history professor at the College of Southern Nevada,

According to hundreds of pages of documents 13 Investigates obtained from the district, in an effort to recruit teachers, human resources staff have traveled from sea to shining sea. And many places in between like Jackson, Mississippi and the City of Angels, as well as Alabama, Orlando, Virginia, and Chicago, to name a few.

Documents show district staff made more than 50 trips to attend about 70 job fairs, conventions, and other events in the 14 months from September of last year to November of this year.

An itinerary that could crush a seasoned rock star. All-expense travel on the taxpayer’s dime totaling more than $150,000.

The district doesn’t want to talk about it on camera, declining multiple requests without explaining why.

“It hurts all of us when any one group in education is not being accountable for the way that they’re managing money,” says Dr. Cosgrove.

She says one particular trip raises many questions—and eyebrows!

At least 17 CCSD employees flew to Miami, where they stayed for nearly a week at a beachfront hotel aptly named the Holiday Inn Oceanfront.

There was no job fair or education convention, but there were fireworks. The district organized its own event the week of July 4th.

“Obviously, that looks like there’s something wrong,” says Dr. Cosgrove. “I would want to know who approved that. What was the paperwork beforehand that said this is justified in what we’re doing? And if that doesn’t exist, that’s the problem.”

We found several problems with this trip. First, the cost to send a sports-team-sized delegation was nearly $40,000 —$29,150.55, of which came from the federal pandemic-era Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). We’re waiting on a response from the feds about whether they think that’s how those dollars should be spent.

So, why did they need nearly a whole week at the beach? In a statement, the district said, “…staff arrived in advance of the event to set up the location and promote it to the local community.”

Apparently, that consisted of spending $3,000 to take out an ad in the Tampa Bay Times, and posting the so-called event on social media.

It consisted of just eight hours over two half days: July 5, from 1 to 5 p.m., and July 6, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“How many people did you recruit?” Dr. Cosgrove asks. “How many resumes did you get? How many offers did you make? How many teachers are going to come to work in the school district?”

In this case, zero.

The district confirms only two people even showed up, and neither filled out an application.

“If you have trip, over trip, over trip where no one is getting hired, then you need to stop that strategy and do something else,” says Dr. Cosgrove.

But there was no stopping the CCSD jet-setters. Two months after Miami Beach and one month after school started, at least eight district employees created a similar hiring event at yet another beachfront hotel—this time in Hawaii.

This September trip to the Twin Fin Hotel was the second Hawaiian excursion this year.

Two employees went on the first one in February, costing $4,600 in tax dollars, and we don’t know the cost of the second yet because the district says they need more time to get those numbers.

The district says 100 candidates showed up, but overall, two resumes were collected and three attendees were recommended for hire.

“I mean, where I work, just to fly to Reno to go to a two-day conference up there, I have to go through a travel committee, and my chair has to sign off, and my dean has to sign off,” Dr. Cosgrove explains. “And the minute I get home, I then have to say all those things I told you I was going to do. I did them. And here’s the evidence.”

We asked the district what their recruitment protocol involves and who approved the trips, including the Miami one, which took place during the week of a major holiday. They didn’t answer, instead pointing us to a five-page regulation about travel. Dr. Cosgrove says it includes no language to enforce and ensure maximum benefit.

We did note that regulations require, “Any travel outside the continental United States must be approved in advance by the Superintendent of Schools.”

Did Superintendent Jesus Jara personally approve the Hawaii trips? We’re still waiting for an answer.

We’re also still waiting for another answer to a question we’ve asked multiple times.

Sources tell us the Chief and Deputy Chief of Human Resources were on that July 4th Florida trip. But their names are not included in the spreadsheet the district sent us. That raises a red flag considering district officials say they have to go to HR to get answers to several of our questions, the very department now under scrutiny for organizing junkets.

“What I’m afraid of is that people at the lower level of what was happening here will be the ones that get into trouble,” says Dr. Cosgrove. “But I don’t think they’re really the ones to blame. There should be people up the management scale who need to be responsible for making sure that management processes are the best practices and that there’s some type of accountability.”

All this recruitment travel takes place against the backdrop of teachers who have been hired but quit their jobs. As of mid-October, there were 1,151 teacher vacancies. That number has jumped to about 1,200, meaning CCSD lost nearly 50 teachers in just two months. There are 460 long-term subs filling full-time teacher positions.

Dr. Cosgrove says, “There are exit interviews with the teachers who are leaving the school district who are saying, ‘I don’t feel safe at my school.’ Who are saying, ‘the work environment is abusive.’ Who are saying, ‘I feel like I’ve been thrown into a situation that I don’t have training for.'”

Instead of spending so much money on recruiting trips, advocates like Dr. Cosgrove believe the district should use those tax dollars to address ongoing issues with things like student discipline and professional development, working to keep or re-hire the qualified teachers we already have right here in Las Vegas.

Because of the potentially egregious misuse of state and federal tax dollars, we asked for an on-camera interview with Superintendent Jara, the head of Human Resources, or anyone else from the District because we fight for what’s right for locals and there’s got to be accountability here.

No one will talk about this, and that includes the trustees. We reached out to every one of them, but none responded.

13 Investigates will continue our reporting when we get more information about the total cost of these trips, which includes an additional16 cities between September and November of this year.