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Superintendent strikes new 3-year deal to stay in Nye County

AMARGOSA VALLEY — After more than an hour of closed talks, Nye County School District trustees on Wednesday night reached a new three-year deal with Superintendent Warren Shillingburg.

Under the agreement, Shillingburg’s salary will be bumped to $180,000 annually and he’ll receive a 3-percent pay increase each year beginning in July 2024 until his new contract expires at the end of June 2026.

Shillingburg will also retain a 4-wheel-drive vehicle under terms of the deal.

For the past several months, the public has weighed in at meetings on whether district trustees should keep Shillingburg, who was hired in July 2020 to head Nye County schools amid a pandemic that disrupted classroom routines here and everywhere.

Student performance in Nye County — like most school districts elsewhere — has dipped dramatically in the past two years. Few Nye County students are proficient in math, science and reading compared to their peers elsewhere, and about 1 in 5 students don’t graduate with their diploma.

Chronic absenteeism —where a student misses 10 percent or more of the school year — is also at historic highs, according to data from the school district.

To make matters worse, the district is financially strapped and has struggled to provide even basics at some schools in the past two years. A parent complained to trustees on Wednesday night that Amargosa Valley School has been operating without running water and has relied on space heaters to warm the building this week because of maintenance issues.

One critic of the superintendent told trustees on Wednesday night that it was the wrong time for the district’s top leader to ask for a pay raise as fights over teacher salaries also persist.

“It is baffling to me that he’d ask for an additional $5,000,” she said, urging trustees to drop contract negotiations with Shillingburg and seek a new superintendent instead.

After two years in the role,the woman said Shillingburg has yet to submit a strategic plan for the district that outlines how Nye County schools are expected to meet certain goals and academic metrics. The strategic plan is a requirement of the superintendent’s current contract and remains a term under the new one approved this week.

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Another critic of the superintendent, who identified herself as a taxpaying, local business owner, told trustees that Shillinburg has not engaged well with the community. 

“In my opinion, it seems like he thinks he’s too good for the community,” she said, citing past exchanges she’s reportedly had with the superintendent. “Apparently he thinks you should only have a voice if you have a child in the school district. How can you run a district and make a positive change if you’re not willing to engage with the community?”

But Sylvia DeMasi, principal of J.G. Johnson Elementary told trustees on Wednesday that educators and administrators across the district stand behind Shillingburg because he advocates for their needs and makes decisions that are in the best interest of students.

DeMasi told trustees that she feared “progress would be halted” in Nye County schools if they didn’t reach a deal to renew Shillingburg’s contract, which was set to expire next summer.

“The last thing educators need right now is uncertainty about who will lead us,” DeMasi said. “Frequent turnover in leadership hurts the district.”

On at least three occasions in the past months, trustees have deliberated privately to consider renewing Shillingburg’s contract, but negotiations always broke down. Personnel discussions about school employees are allowed to be debated behind closed doors, but trustees must inform the public of any action they take immediately after their executive session.

Following more than an hour of consideration on Wednesday night, trustees emerged from their talks and announced they had approved the deal with Shillingburg, which includes retirement and insurance benefits, 15 days of sick leave, 20 days of vacation time and an extra 32 hours of personal leave each year.

Shillingburg did not attend Wednesday’s board meeting in Amargosa Valley.

In an appearance before the business community in September, the 35-year veteran educator addressed the dire challenges of the district, noting how climbing enrollments, teacher shortages, funding deficits and other problems have long plagued the rural district of roughly 5,500 students.

“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” he said. “The problems here are more severe.”

When Shillingburg came to the district more than two years ago, he said he noticed that teachers here were “lowering standards so kids could be successful.”

“It was setting kids up for failure. We must teach grade-level standards in our classroom,” he said at the business luncheon earlier this year. “I don’t want any child to come back to our school district and tell me ‘I couldn’t do this because you didn’t prepare me.’”

Since Shillinburg accepted the superintendent’s job, Nye County has implemented new curriculum in most every core subject area. It’s hired interventionists and English-language specialists for non-native speakers to improve performance among those populations. Additionally, each of the district’s elementary schools is offering enrichment programs.

Contact Editor Brent Schanding at bschanding@pvtimes.com

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