Posts Tagged ‘education reform’

State Senate Candidate Advocates New Corporate Profits Tax In Debate, GOP Opponent Says Call Is Premature

By Sean Whaley | 2:50 pm September 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Former state Sen. Sheila Leslie drew a clear contrast with her Republican opponent Sen. Greg Brower in the District 15 race in Washoe County in a debate today, calling for a corporate profits tax to generate enough revenue to adequately fund education.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposal to extend a package of sunsetting taxes into the next budget to avoid any further cuts to education won’t provide enough revenue, she said in a debate with Brower on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

The Washoe County School District will have to cut $50 million next year even if the sunsetting taxes are continued, she said.

“All the surrounding states have that kind of a tax,” Leslie said. “Utah is the lowest at 5 percent. We could have a 1 or 2 percent tax and still be the lowest. We could phase out the modified business tax, which is a job killer. And we could lower the sales tax, eventually.”

Former state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Brower said he supports extending the sunsetting taxes, but said talk of new taxes is premature.

“Including the tax revenue that was to sunset as revenue that we will or may have as we build the budget is the only common sense thing to do,” he said. “Otherwise we have a $700 million hole in the budget and we just can’t fill that, especially if we are not going to cut education further, which I think is absolutely critical.”

The debate, which went off without any fireworks, involves a state Senate seat considered critical by both Democrats and Republicans as they seek to control the 21-member house for the 2013 legislative session. Democrats now have an 11-10 majority. The 42-member Assembly is expected to remain in Democratic control.

In an unusual political move, Leslie resigned her Senate 1 seat to run against Brower in the new District 15. Brower was appointed to the Senate in District 3 to fill out the term of the late Sen. Bill Raggio. The new district, the result of redistricting based on the 2010 census, has a Republican voter registration edge of 39.8 percent to 37.9 percent for Democrats as of the end of August.

Brower said it would be better to have Republicans control the Senate because the party is more pro-business. Republicans will also do more to further public education reform and work to reform the collective bargaining process, which is crippling local governments, he said.

Democrats came along “kicking and screaming” in their support the 2011 education reforms, Brower said.

State Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Leslie said having Democrats in control has ensured that Nevada has not had to deal with “horrible legislation” that has been seen in other states such as voter suppression efforts and hard-line anti-immigration measures.

Sandoval is a Republican so there is balance, she said.

“And as to the education reforms, those came out of the Democratic Assembly, they were the ones who brought forth the reforms, so it’s not true that Democrats don’t ever want to reform anything,” Leslie said.

Having said that, Leslie said the 2013 Legislature needs to look at properly funding education and retaining the best teachers, not pursuing further reforms. The 2011 reforms, including a new teacher evaluation process, have not even had a chance to take effect yet, she said.

Brower said he would like to see more choice for parents in picking schools and have the state give up some of its control to the local school boards. The best teachers also need to be paid more, he said.

The two candidates will also debate Friday on the Face to Face television show.


Audio clips:

Senate 15 candidate Sheila Leslie says she would support the creation of a corporate profits tax to adequately fund public education:

092612Leslie1 :14 sales tax, eventually.”

Candidate Greg Brower says such talk is premature:

092612Brower1 :21 talking about that.”

Brower says a Republican-controlled Senate would be more pro-business and allow for more education and collective bargaining reforms:

092612Brower2 :15 in the Legislature.”

Leslie says having Democrats in control has kept Nevada from passing bad legislation:

092612Leslie2 :17 to reform anything.”


Poll Finds Nevadans Divided On New Tax Proposal But Strongly Favor Education Reform Efforts

By Sean Whaley | 11:08 am September 26th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The results of a poll of Nevada residents conducted on behalf of the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN) show that 45 percent of those queried believe a 2 percent margins tax on business proposed by teachers will generate the revenues necessary to support public education.

But 49 percent say the new levy, if approved, would raise prices, increase the state’s already high jobless rate and hurt business, according to the poll by Public Opinion Strategies of 500 likely voters taken Sept. 19-20. It has a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

And when asked if money alone will improve Nevada’s public education system, only 22 percent agreed, with 73 percent saying the system also needs significant reforms.

The Nevada State Education Association is currently circulating petitions to take the proposed new tax to the Legislature in 2013, but a legal challenge to the proposal remains alive in Carson City District Court.

The poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed said the amount of taxes they pay is about right, with 22 percent saying taxes are too high.

And 58 percent said the governor and Legislature should raises taxes if necessary to avoid cuts to education and health care, while 32 percent said spending should be cut instead.

RAN began conducting the semi-annual poll in 2009, and many of the questions have been asked each time. In this way, the poll can give not only a snapshot of current conditions, but it can also identify trends by comparing results from earlier polls.

Poll information is then shared with RAN members, the public and state legislators so that the concerns of our state will be considered when policies are shaped in Carson City.

Among the other findings in the latest survey:

- Gov. Brian Sandoval is popular, with 62 percent approving of his job performance. But only 45 percent say the governor understands their problems, and only 33 percent say the Legislature does.

- A majority of those surveyed, 52 percent, say the state should not freeze the defined benefits offered to public employees through the state retirement system, while 41 percent say a freeze should be implemented to save money.

- The survey found that 48 percent of respondents believe that Nevada should opt into the Medicaid expansion provided for under the Affordable Care Act, while 44 percent say the state should opt out because of the cost and because the neediest residents are already covered.

- Asked about the conservative Tea Party Movement, 26 percent of respondents said they had a strongly or somewhat favorable view of the movement, with 35 percent saying they have strongly or somewhat unfavorable views.

Public Opinion Strategies (POS) is a national political and public affairs research firm. Founded in 1991, POS has conducted more than five million interviews with voters and consumers in all fifty states and over two dozen foreign countries.

Five Southern Nevada Residents Seek Board Of Education Seat In District 3

By Sean Whaley | 11:55 am June 5th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Five candidates, including one current board member, are seeking the State Board of Education seat in District 3 in Clark County in the June 12 primary.

The top two vote-getters in the nonpartisan race will move on to the general election in November. The board, reconstituted in the 2011 legislative session, has four elected seats. Another three will be appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative leadership.

The candidates are Dino Davis, an investigative specialist with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department; Ed Klapproth, who teachers at the College of Southern Nevada; Debra “Sam” King, retired from the Clark County School District; Allison Serafin, who works as a special consultant to Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones; and Annie Yvette Wilson, who currently serves on the 10-member elected board and who also works as the homeless liaison for the Las Vegas police.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

The board is expected to take on a newly expanded role in Sandoval’s efforts to reform and improve Nevada’s public education system.

Dino Davis says he is independent

Davis, who has a six-year-old daughter in the Clark County School District, said he decided to run because of concerns about the disparity in the schools, some which are only a mile apart. Davis said he is not affiliated with the teachers’ union or any other education interest group.

“I’m truly independent,” he said. “I’m in this strictly for the students of Nevada and to improve their overall achievement in education. I’m passionate about education.”

Davis, who is completing a master’s degree in public administration, said his passion came late in life when his daughter entered school.

“I’ve just come to realize through my studies how important education is, and I think every student deserves that opportunity to have an education,” he said.

Davis said he supports school choice as does Sandoval, with charter schools filling an important need along with home schooling. But if the state can help create high performing schools where students can excel, choice may not be as critical for most parents and students, he said.

Davis said he isn’t sold on a voucher program where students would be able to use state tax dollars to attend private school, but that he is not adamantly opposed either. Sandoval is expected to pursue a voucher program in the 2013 legislative session.

“I’m all for some healthy competition, I agree with that aspect, it does make people step up to the plate and improve,” he said.

Ed Klapproth says he supports Gov. Sandoval’s education reforms

Klapproth said he is a strong supporter of Sandoval’s reform efforts, including a voucher program. He has worked as a teacher both in the U.S. and overseas, giving him a chance to see different education systems first hand, including those in Europe and Asia. He teaches English as a second language and is qualified in political science as well.

Klapproth said a major concern is how many students need remedial courses when they come to college.

“It’s shocking sometimes how much they don’t know,” he said. “We have a broken system and we need to make some radical changes.”

Klapproth said money isn’t the answer to improving the state’s education system. Funding is important but throwing money at the problem and creating an ever-expanding bureaucracy does not work, he said.

Teachers are over-burdened with a bureaucracy that has caused frustration and low morale, Klapproth said.

“And so I’d like to see teachers and the parents have more control over the curriculum,” he said. “I don’t believe in this one-size-fits-all education system that’s handed down from Washington, DC. We have very unique problems in our state, a unique situation, and we have to be responsive to that.”

Klapproth said he would like to see a separate track established for students who want to pursue vocational training as is done in other countries. In Japan, companies provide the money and personnel to set up training programs so they can hire highly skilled workers. Doing this in Nevada by giving corporations a $1 for $1 tax credit to do this would help diversify the economy as well, he said.

Klapproth said he would like to see more school choice, including more charter schools and some type of voucher program. He would also like to see alternative credentialing to bring more qualified teachers into the classroom.

Debra “Sam” King says Nevada needs to “change up” the public education system

King, who retired in 2009 having worked as both a classroom teacher and as the GED administrator and who put two children through the Clark County public school system, said Nevada needs to “change up” the public education system.

“Not necessarily reform, because reform always suggests that we’re doing a lot of bad things,” she said. “I do think that we need to do a change up and maybe look at what we’re doing with education.”

As to Sandoval’s education reform proposals, King said she will continue to support the public education system but that changes and improvements need to be considered, including ending social promotion.

“That’s a given,” she said. “Because we’re not doing the student any favors, or quality of life any favors in the community. The student has to get the material and learn to the best of ability so they become a productive person.”

But King said she does not support a voucher program, which faces legal and constitutional impediments.

“I do support charter schools when they are organized to fill a need,” she said.

The homeschooling program also needs to be continued, King said.

“I’m a strong proponent of both adequate and equitable schools,” she said.

King said regardless of who advances after the primary, what is important is to keep moving forward with improving public education.

“There is no quick fix,” she said.

Allison Serafin says she wants to ensure children get access to a great education

Serafin said she is running because of a belief that the board needs members with both classroom and business experience that can help create policy for schools across the state. She taught for three years at the middle school level before going to work for the superintendent.

Before that Serafin started her educational career in the Teach for America program in 2001 in Houston.

“So, for the past 11 years, my life really has been dedicated to doing everything I can to ensure that all kids get access to a great education,” she said. “And that, ultimately, was grounded in my experience as a teacher and seeing the incredible potential within all of my students.”

As to Sandoval’s proposed reforms, Serafin said it is exciting to know that he wants to “discuss what policies we can put in place to ensure that our kids, No. 1, know whether or not they are proficient and that their families know, and that No. 2, it holds all of us, the adults, accountable to ensuring that we are adequately preparing our kids.”

Whether the answer is vouchers or charters, the objective is ensuring every child has access to a great school, she said.

“I’m open to having discussions around what are other states are doing that is leading to great results,” Serafin said. “And how at the same time can we support our existing public schools in this effort.

“What our state school board needs are leaders who are going to identify problems and most importantly create innovative solutions that are cost neutral,” she said.

The state’s economic prosperity is at stake, Serafin said.

Annie Wilson says underlying issues need to be addressed to help children get a quality of education

Wilson said she wants to continue the work on the board she started after getting elected in November 2010. As a result of the 2011 legislation, Wilson said she has to run again for the District 3 seat to do that.

Wilson said she wants to deal with the problems associated with the state-required proficiency test for a student to graduate from high school. A growth model measuring a student’s progress is one alternative, she said.

“You can base the student on their growth, how much they are learning in the classroom, instead of basing everything on a proficiency test, one test,” Wilson said.

If a student is not going to pass the test, then efforts should be made to prepare for the GED, Wilson said. Parents need to know what is available in the community, including assistance that is offered by the library system, to help their children, she said.

Preparation for the proficiency test should also be offered in summer school at no charge, Wilson said.

Wilson said she does support charter schools, and would consider a voucher program depending on the details. But the voters she has talked to generally don’t support vouchers, Wilson said.

She agrees with the need to provide a foundation for children in the first three grades, but said there are underlying issues that make this a challenge for many parents.

“And the parents have to be engaged also,” Wilson said. “Right now there’s not a lot of parents engaged in education. There are a lot of underlying issues. Right now in the Clark County School District we have almost 5,000 homeless school children in our school district.”

These problems need to be addressed for these parents first, she said.

“My goal is to help the students, parents and the community,” Wilson said.


Audio clips:

Dino Davis says he is independent:

060512Davis1 :09 achievement in education.”

Davis says he has come to appreciate the importance of education:

060512Davis2 :22 have an education.”

Ed Klapproth says money is not the answer to improving public education:

060512Klapproth1 :15 just doesn’t work.”

Klapproth says parents and teachers should have more say over the curriculum:

060512Klapproth2 :22 responsive to that.”

“Sam” King says Nevada needs to “change up” education:

060512King1 :16 doing with education.”

King says social promotion helps no one:

060512King2 :12 a productive person.”

Serafin says the board needs people with classroom and business experience:

060512Serafin1 :20 across the state.”

Serafin says she has worked for the past 11 years to help children get access to a great education:

060512Serafin2 :18 of my students.”

Annie Wilson says issues with the proficiency test need to be addressed:

060512Wilson :16 test, one test.”

Wilson says there are underlying issues that need to be addressed to ensure students get a good education:

060512Wilson2 :15 our school district.”




Candidates For State Education Board Seat Bring Diverse Backgrounds To Race

By Sean Whaley | 9:21 am May 25th, 2012

CARSON CITY – With education reform a top priority of Gov. Brian Sandoval, the new alignment of the state Board of Education – with four seats up for grabs on the November ballot – is taking on more importance than ever before.

One of the four seats, District 2 which mirrors the new Nevada 2nd Congressional District from Reno and Carson City east across rural Nevada, has attracted five candidates, two of whom are serving now on the 10-member elected board. The race is nonpartisan.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association; Scott Carey, a planner for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; Donna Clontz, a retired teacher and juvenile justice expert; Dave Cook, a member of the board and charter school math teacher; and Adriana Guzman Fralick, a member of the board and attorney with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, are all on the June 12 primary ballot.

The top two vote getters will move on to the general election in November.

Since taking office in 2011, Sandoval has made education reform a priority of his administration. A number of reforms, including reconstituting the state board, were approved in the 2011 legislative session.

Photo courtesy of FEMA via Wikimedia Commons.

He also recently appointed a new superintendent of public instruction, James Guthrie, who formerly served as the senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.

Sandoval plans in 2013 to pursue a number of additional reforms, including ending social promotion and fostering school choice through charter school expansion and some form of voucher program that is still in development.

The new board will play an expanded role in the reform effort. In addition to four elected candidates, Sandoval will appoint three members, one of his choice and one each nominated by the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker. There will also be four nonvoting members.

Ray Bacon brings an employer perspective to race

Bacon, who has advocated for education reform for more than 25 years, said he entered the race as a candidate coming from the perspective of the business sector.

“There are two primary focuses in the education picture,” he said. “They (are) the students, which should be first and foremost No.1, and then the second constituency is employers, which are routinely ignored by the education system.”

Employers need a voice on the board, Bacon said.

The key is not job oriented education, but providing students with a strong set of basic skills in writing, reading, math and science, he said. The reality is there will be job opportunities in the future that aren’t even on the radar yet, Bacon said.

“If their basic skills are really solid, and really foundational, and they pay attention, they have the skill set to move into those jobs,” Bacon said. “If they’re lacking in those basics, they can’t make the transition.”

The reforms passed in the last session were a major step forward, but more remains to be done, he said.

Bacon said he has concerns with the use of binding arbitration in school district negotiations with teachers and other employees. A recent arbitration decision in Clark County in favor of teachers could lead to hundreds of teacher layoffs. The arbitrators always seem to be from out of state and lack the knowledge of Nevada’s public education funding scheme, he said. Arbitrators should come from Nevada, he said.

There should also be a requirement that teacher contracts comply with state law, Bacon said. The Clark County layoffs will be based on who was last hired, which conflicts with legislation passed in 2011 making seniority not the only basis for such decisions, he said.

As to school choice, Bacon said he would start with students in under-performing schools, giving them an edge to enroll elsewhere, including charter schools.

Scott Carey says an educated workforce is critical to economic diversification

Carey, who grew up in Sparks and took advantage of the Gov. Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship, said he wants to focus on improving public education as a way to help with Nevada’s economic diversification efforts

“I see kind of the biggest thing holding back our state to diversifying our economy is education,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get jobs to relocate here and open up new operations if our schools continue to be in the condition that they are and our graduation rate remains the way it is.”

Nevada needs a skilled workforce to drive innovation and expand the economy, Carey said.

The new board will play a big role in education reform, he said. The state’s last in the nation graduation rate is unacceptable, he said.

“And I’m willing to look at new ideas that can help improve that graduation rate,” Carey said. “I think a lot of the partisan politics that sometimes get played in Carson City do more harm than they do good. If elected to the Board of Education I would take a look at solutions from both sides of the aisle and see what we can do to help improve education.”

Carey said he supports expanded school choice, including the potential use of vouchers, as long as they don’t take financial resources away from what he said are already “vastly underfunded” public schools.

Donna Clontz says she wants to bring her experiences with childhood issues to bear at the state board

“I decided to run for the State Board of Education because I see it in a very important leadership role for policy for all of our 17 school districts and I don’t believe it really has filled that role in the past,” Clontz said.

The board can and should serve in an outspoken leadership role on behalf of all students to make education and quality schools the state’s number one priority, she said.

Clontz started her career as an elementary school teacher, then went to night law school to become an attorney. She then went to work as a prosecutor in the California juvenile justice system. Her next career was on the staff of the National School Safety Center, getting an education on school safety issues, from bullying to weapons, all of which are still issues today.

Those experiences make her well qualified to serve on the board, she said.

“Everybody who plays a role, I think, could be engaged in a strategic planning process where we would all work together to get that change of attitude that I think it’s going to take in Nevada for all of us to say that schools are the most important thing that we can work on to bring our state back, our economy back, to create the jobs we need, to have young people that are trained and ready to go to work in those jobs,” Clontz said. “We’re perched on the edge of some great things.”

She supports ending social promotion for elementary school students and the development of quality charter schools but opposes vouchers. Vouchers have been tried elsewhere without success and Nevada has too many other education issues to address, Clontz said.

Dave Cook says he will pursue Gov. Sandoval’s reforms if returned to the board

Cook said one of the keys to improving education is to use effective testing to measure progress.

“We need to effectively assess students,” he said. “At the same time, we need to do less testing overall. So we need to do testing that is going to be beneficial for making decisions about students.”

Assessing students at the beginning and end of the school year helps prevent a number of problems and can help determine if a student should be promoted, Cook said.

“And most of our problems happen because language and mathematics aren’t being effectively handled in the elementary grades,” he said. “By the time we discover them in middle school, the damage is already done.”

Such testing also provides the opportunity to measure teacher performance because it assesses how far each student has come during the year, Cook said.

Cook, who previously served on the Carson City School Board before being elected to the state Board of Education, said he is a big supporter of quality charter schools. Between 2008 and now, the attitude toward charter schools has improved dramatically and the schools are playing a big role in education reform, he said.

Cook said he supports the concept of vouchers as well, although full implementation might require an incremental approach. Any voucher program would have to carry an accountability element with it to ensure tax dollars are being spent efficiently, he said.

Cook said being a licensed math teacher gives him an added dimension to serve on the board.

Adriana Fralick says her time on the board gives her the background to move forward on reforms  

Fralick said she is on board with the education reforms already achieved by Sandoval and his plans going forward.

“I believe in charter schools and I think now with the new (Charter School) authority I think there is a chance of expanding that and streamlining it so I think that is going to be something very positive,” she said.

She also supports vouchers, saying parents should be able to choose their child’s school.

“Implementing a fair state-based voucher system will give parents and students a vested interest in the child’s education and stimulate parental involvement – an important factor in student success,” she said on her website.

Fralick said she is concerned about the potential for changes to the Nevada Plan, which outlines how public schools are funded in Nevada. A legislative panel is now reviewing the state’s public education funding plan at the request of the Clark County School District.

Fralick was appointed to the board in November 2010 by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons to fill out the term of Ken McKenna, who resigned. During the past 18 months, Fralick said she was on a learning curve. Now that she has the background, it is time to move forward with policies to improve Nevada’s education system.

“I’ve been on the board, not too long, but long enough to where I see what needs changing or what works,” Fralick said. “So I think that is one of my strengths, I can hit the ground running.”

Another strength Fralick said is her work as a public agency attorney for many years. Regulations sometimes have unintended consequences, so a legal background can help to prevent such occurrences, she said.


Audio clips

Ray Bacon says employers have been ignored by the education system:

052512Bacon1 :16 the education system.”

Bacon says students need to master the fundamentals:

052512Bacon2 :18 make the transition.”

Scott Carey says a quality educational system is key to economic diversification:

052512Carey1 :22 way it is.”

Carey says he will work with all policy makers to improve the public education system:

052512Carey2 :25 help improve education.”

Donna Clontz says the board can play a major role in education reform:

052512Clontz1 :15 in the past.”

Clontz says Nevada has to focus on a quality public education system:

052512Clontz2 :33 in those jobs.”

Dave Cook says effective testing is needed to measure education reform efforts:

052512Cook1 :29 not be promoted.”

Cook says students need a strong foundation in the early elementary grades to succeed:

052512Cook2 :17 is already done.”

Adriana Fralick says she supports charter school expansion:

052512Fralick1 :14 something very positive.”

Fralick says she can hit the ground running if elected to the board:

052512Fralick2 :15 the ground running.”


Sandoval Public Education Reform Agenda For 2013 Outlined By Top Administration Official

By Sean Whaley | 3:39 pm May 4th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Establishing school choice for parents and ending social promotion for students are two top priorities in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education reform agenda for the 2013 legislative session, an administration official said today.

Linking pay to performance and providing professional development to ensure students have the best possible classroom teachers is a third major priority, said Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval.

Erquiaga briefed the Nevada State Public School Charter Authority on the governor’s education reform agenda being readied for the next session.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

Erquiaga said Sandoval is a strong believer in parental choice for schools and that he will again pursue that objective. Whether it will be through a voucher system or by providing opportunity scholarships directly to parents to pick a private or public school has yet to be determined, he said.

Implementing a voucher program would likely require a change to the state constitution, a time consuming process. A scholarship option might circumvent the need for a constitutional change. Florida implemented school choice by giving tax breaks to corporations that provide scholarships to parents for private school, including those operated by religious organizations.

“Fortunately though, we now, really for the first time, have a superintendent of public instruction who supports those concepts and will be working hand-in-hand with the governor’s office to present the best bill,” he said in an interview after his briefing. “The superintendent the governor has hired is a national expert with a national network, and we’re going to bring all of that intellect to bear on providing the very best bill that we can.”

James Guthrie, formerly the senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, was named by Sandoval as the new state superintendent of public instruction in March. He started his new job April 2.

Erquiaga said Sandoval was disappointed that the 2011 Legislature failed to act on his proposal to end social promotion. His bill would have required children to be reading proficient by the end of third grade or they would not advance to the fourth grade.

The bill had a hearing but never made it out of the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

“We already provide class size reduction dollars in grades one, two and three,” Erquiaga said. “We have smaller class sizes and it is the intent of those dollars that those children receive the special attention. And yet we’re still passing on thousands of children who can’t read. We’re dooming them to failure.

“We may need to draw a bright line in the sand there,” he said.

Ensuring that each classroom has a highly effective teacher is Sandoval’s other major priority, Erquiaga said.

“We have a performance pay framework but the new superintendent has great ideas around a career ladder so that teachers can see a progression in their career and so we’re really going to look at that as well,” he said.

“We recognize that if we have an effective or highly effective teacher in the classroom, there is almost no better gift that we could give a child than that,” Erquiaga said.

The intention is to reward highly effective educators, including principals, and find ways to keep them, he said.

One element of Sandoval’s education agenda that was well received by the Charter Authority was the idea that many of the existing separate funds designated for specific needs such as textbooks, be placed instead in performance-based block grants that would give school districts more flexibility in how to use the money. Charter schools would be eligible for these block grants as well, Erquiaga said. A bill to accomplish this was introduced in the 2011 session but did not win approval.

The State Public School Charter Authority, itself created by the 2011 Legislature and viewed as a major education reform success by Sandoval, will have at least one bill draft, he said. The authority, created to focus on the creation and oversight of quality charter schools in Nevada, met today and had a discussion about what proposals to bring to the 2013 Legislature.

One of the key issues for the Charter Authority is the creation of “performance-based” charter contracts, which would link accountability to outcomes.

Erquiaga said Sandoval is a strong supporter of accountability throughout the public education system.


Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor will pursue school choice in the 2013 session:

050412Erquiaga1 :28 that we can.”

Erquiaga says social promotion is dooming thousands of children to failure:

050412Erquiaga2 :16 them to failure.”

Erquiaga says ensuring each classroom has a highly effective teacher is critical:

050412Erquiaga3 :11 that as well.”


Gov. Brian Sandoval Names James Guthrie Of The George W. Bush Institute As New State School Chief

By Sean Whaley | 1:57 pm March 12th, 2012

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today named James Guthrie, currently the senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, as Nevada’s new public schools chief.

Guthrie, who will be based in Las Vegas, will begin his job as state superintendent of public instruction on April. 2. He succeeds current Superintendent Keith Rheault, who is retiring.

Sandoval selected Guthrie from three names forwarded to him by the state Board of Education. The board interviewed five candidates last month. Guthrie received unanimous support from the board.

James Guthrie.

Sandoval’s appointment of Guthrie is a first for a Nevada governor. The state board had made the superintendent appointments until the law was changed by the 2011 Legislature as part of an education reform package sought by Sandoval.

“After the passage of education reform in the last legislative session, for Nevada to have access to a figure with a national reputation is the perfect next step,” Sandoval said. “I am honored and thrilled Dr. Guthrie has agreed to help lead Nevada as we continue strengthening education in our great state.”

In a phone interview today, Guthrie said he decided to seek the position in part because of a belief that Nevada is on the brink of significant success in the public education arena.

“There are many hopeful signs in the state, not least of which is . . .  we have two of the nation’s best superintendents and we may have more than that,” he said. “I just only know Heath Morrison in Washoe and Dwight Jones in Clark, I don’t know the other 15. But in those two, virtually any big district in the nation would be delighted to have either one of them and we have both.”

Morrison was recently named superintendent of the year.

The 2011 legislative session also made a number of positive moves in education reform that Guthrie said he is impressed with. Guthrie said he is also impressed with Sandoval and is looking forward to working with him on education reform efforts.

Guthrie said his first task will be to familiarize himself with Nevada and its public education system, although he has worked in the past for the Nevada Legislature and has made extensive visits to the state.

Guthrie said he also has experience in the political realm, which will be important as he works with the governor and state lawmakers in the 2013 legislative session.

“I’ve worked for a number of legislatures, I’ve worked in the White House, I’ve testified before Congress,” he said. “I can’t say that I know all that I need to know but I have done it before.”

Prior to his position with the George W. Bush Presidential Center, Guthrie served as a professor of education policy and leadership at the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education at Southern Methodist University.

Guthrie has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in physical anthropology, a master’s degree from Stanford in educational administration and earned his Ph.D. in educational administration from Stanford.

Guthrie has completed two postdoctoral fellowships, one at Harvard University in economics and education and one at Oxford Brooks College in Oxford, UK.

From 1999 to 2009, Guthrie served as the director of the Peabody Center for Education Policy at Vanderbilt University and as editor of the Peabody Journal of Education as well as the Peabody Education Leadership Series. From 1982 to 1983, Guthrie was the dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. After serving as a professor in the graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, Guthrie was an education specialist in the U.S. Senate.

A published author, Guthrie has served at least 25 state governments and worked with international organizations such as The World Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS).

The state superintendent position pays about $121,785 a year plus benefits.


Audio clips:

James Guthrie says there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about Nevada’s public education system:

031212Guthrie1 :28 we have both.”

Guthrie says he has experience in dealing with legislators:

031212Guthrie2 :13 done it before.”


Nevada Improves Data Collection To Measure Student Achievement, Still Faces Access Challenges

By Sean Whaley | 4:14 pm December 1st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada has made significant progress in the collection of the data needed to measure and help improve student achievement, but still has work to do in putting the information to work for parents, educators and policy makers, a national report released today says.

The Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) seventh annual state analysis, Data for Action 2011, shows that states have made major progress building their student data systems. More states than ever – 36, up from zero in 2005, including Nevada – have implemented all of DQC’s 10 Essential Elements of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems.

Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.

The report shows however, that states continue struggle with the 10 State Actions to Ensure Effective Data Use, which are intended to ensure that stakeholders can effectively use the data to increase student success. The report shows that Nevada has implemented five of the 10 actions.

The report shows, for example, that 41 states do not link workforce data with K–12 data and 38 states do not link workforce data with post-secondary data.

Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, said in a telephone conference call today that there has been substantial progress since the first report was released in 2005 in collecting the date needed to improve student achievement.

“Not only have states made progress, but for the first time, the campaign is thrilled to announce that we believe that every single state in this country now has the capacity to empower education stakeholders,” she said. “And that means everyone from parents to policy makers, with quality data to inform decision making. And that is an amazing, gaming changing opportunity for us in the education sector.

“People have complained they didn’t have access to information, they didn’t know where to get the information, we didn’t have the quality information, and we think that we are now at a turning point in the conversation to say there are no more excuses, we now have this data that is collected at the state level,” Guidera said.

But states need to do more to provide access to the data to teachers, parents and policy makers, and to make sure they know how to use the information, she said. Only eight states are now providing individual student information to parents, and only five are providing information to students themselves, Guidera said.

States particularly need to ensure the date can be effectively used by teachers, she said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has made quality data collection a priority of his administration because of its importance in measuring education reform efforts.

He issued an executive order Oct. 7 asking a state education panel to take the necessary steps to create a system to track students through their school years, following in the steps of other states as part of an overarching effort to reform education and improve student performance in Nevada.

That group, the P-16 Council, met Nov. 9 to begin the process of creating a usable data system to track student performance from early childhood education through college.

In remarks at the meeting, Sandoval said: “This is a historical moment, this is really a crossroads in the state of Nevada and we have some great opportunities to really improve the delivery of education in this state.”

Guidera said Nevada is in the middle of the states with five actions met. The average nationwide is 4.6.

Nevada has a lot of momentum in the data collection effort, having this year put the 10 elements in place, she said. The challenge now is to ensure the state data system is meeting the needs of the local school districts as well as other users, Guidera said.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction, said the state was able to meet the data quality elements through a federal grant received in 2008. The funds ran out this year but the agency is pursing another federal grant to continue the process.

“Our next step will be to link the data systems of K-12 education to the (Nevada System of Higher Education) NSHE data as well as the workforce database (managed by the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation),” he said.

Rheault said the new grant would be used to meet several of the missing action items cited in the report, including the linkage of the systems as well as building a statewide data repository.

“Quality educational data that is readily available to school districts and the public is a key element in improving schools and the achievement and success of our students,” he said.


Audio clips:

Aimee Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign, says all states now can provide quality data needed to measure student performance:

120111Guidera1 :21 the education sector.”

Guidera says the country is now at a turning point:

120111Guidera2 :13 the state level.”

Nevada Seeking New State Public Schools Chief To Implement Education Reforms

By Sean Whaley | 1:31 pm November 22nd, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada is looking for a new state public schools chief to push forward with education reforms sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval and approved by lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction since 2004, is retiring in early April and Sandoval wants to have a new schools chief to take over the Department of Education by then.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said in a press briefing Monday that the selection of a new leader of the state public school system is a critical initiative for the governor but that he is staying out of the search.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

Sandoval has not asked Michelle Rhee, the founder and CEO of the education advocacy group StudentsFirst, to apply for the position, he said. Rhee, the former head of the Washington, DC, school system, was invited and attended Sandoval’s State of the State address in January.

“The governor is asking no one to apply, no one in our office will speak to applicants, the governor has no predetermined outcome,” Erquiaga said. “I will say though the governor recognizes it is potentially the most important appointment he will make during his time in office.

“Superintendent searches around the country at the state level and district level sometimes fail because there are not enough applicants,” he said. “So the better pool of applicants we have the better off all of our kids will be.”

Florida had difficulty recruiting a new state schools chief earlier this year because of a lack of qualified candidates. A new chief was finally selected and took over in July.

The Nevada position is posted and open to qualified applicants through Dec. 30. It pays about $121,785 a year plus benefits.

As a result of the education reform legislation, Sandoval now has the authority to appoint the new schools chief. In the past the 10-member Board of Education, all of whom are elected in districts statewide, had the authority to select the superintendent.

Erquiaga said the governor would like to have at least six candidates for the Board of Education to interview in a public process. Three candidates would then be forwarded to Sandoval for his consideration for an appointment by March.

The new legislation also changes the way the state board is selected but Erquiaga said those changes won’t come until January 2013, which is why the search process is being done now with the current board. Sandoval wants a new superintendent in place well in advance of the 2013 legislative session, he said.

The new board as established in Senate Bill 197 will have four elected members, one from each of the state’s congressional districts, one member appointed by Sandoval and one member each selected by the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker. There will also be four non-voting members appointed by the governor representing different public education interests.

Sandoval and lawmakers agreed to a number of education reforms in the 2011 session, including a new teacher evaluation process to ensure the best educators remain in the classroom.


Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says superintendent searches sometimes fail because there are not enough qualified applicants:

112211Erquiaga1 :08 not enough applicants.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval recognizes that the selection of a new superintendent is potentially the most important appointment he will make as governor:

112211Erquiaga2 :15 time in office.”


State Panel Begins Work On Creating Uniform Education Data Reporting System

By Sean Whaley | 3:48 pm November 9th, 2011

CARSON CITY – It’s hard to know how well Nevada’s public school and college students are doing if there is no uniform and reliable data to view their performance over time.

Gov. Brian Sandoval is working to change that.

He issued an executive order Oct. 7 asking a state education panel to take the necessary steps to create a system to track students through their school years, following in the steps of other states as part of an overarching effort to reform education and improve student performance in Nevada.

That group, the P-16 Council, met today to begin the process of creating a usable data system to track student performance from early childhood education through college.

The council was created to help coordinate education efforts in Nevada from preschool through post-secondary levels and has the authority to address the data information system for public school students.

In introductory remarks to the council, which includes lawmakers, educators, parents and business representatives, Sandoval said he wants Nevada to create a data system that will put it on a par with states that have successfully accomplished the task, including Florida, Maine, Connecticut and Washington.

The information, including performance measures of educators, is critical to moving Nevada forward in student achievement, he said.

A new panel, called the Teachers and Leaders Council, was created as a result of legislation passed in the 2011 session, Sandoval said. It is charged with developing a statewide performance evaluation system for administrators and classroom teachers. Half of the evaluation must be based on student data, which is why the charge to the P-16 Council is so important, he said.

“This is a historical moment, this is really a crossroads in the state of Nevada and we have some great opportunities to really improve the delivery of education in this state,” Sandoval said.

“There is going to be a huge challenge for all of you,” he said. “You have all the resources of this administration to assist you.”

State Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, elected chairwoman of the 11-member council, said she has been working for years to create a reliable data system for public education in Nevada. It has been frustrating though, to see the money spent on different systems that have failed to generate the necessary information, she said.

Right now there is no collaboration or coordination between school districts or with higher education, Cegavske said.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, left, and Judy Osgood, policy adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, discuss issues at the P-16 Council meeting today. / Nevada News Bureau.

“When you look at other states, Florida, when you look at what they are able to collect and the information they are able to provide, it is just incredible,” she said. “It’s so exciting. And that’s where we need to be and we need to get there.”

In a three-plus hour meeting, the council reviewed the current status of data collection efforts, which started with a system called SMART, or Statewide Management of Automated Records Transfer, approved by the Nevada Legislature in 1995. After millions of dollars had been spent on developing the system, lawmakers in 2003 pulled the plug on the project.

The Nevada Department of Education beginning in 2007 developed a new system called SAIN, or System of Accountability Information for Nevada, with a $6 million federal grant. It has longitudinal student data from 2005 to the present, including enrollment, attendance, discipline, course completion and graduation, among other data elements.

The SAIN system has nine of 10 essential data elements, the department said in its presentation, but many issues remain with the database, the council was told.

Erin Cranor, a member of the council representing elementary and secondary education, said Nevada should identify what has already been done in other states that can be used as a starting point.

The council will meet again Jan. 11. A first progress report is due to Sandoval by Feb. 1. It is to complete its work by Aug. 1, 2012.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says Nevada is at a historic moment to achieve major education reform:

110911Sandoval :10 in this state.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske says Nevada needs a student data system like Florida’s:

110911Cegavske :11 to get there.”

Gov. Sandoval Signs Education Reform Bills Into Law

By Sean Whaley | 11:17 am June 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval today signed four public education reform bills into law, saying Nevada has “made great advancements on behalf of our schoolchildren.”

Sandoval signed Assembly Bills 225 and 229, and Senate Bills 197 and 212 into law.

Gov. Brian Sandoval today signed education reform legislation into law./Nevada News Bureau file photo

“I am proud to sign these groundbreaking education reform bills into law,” he said. “Today, we have replaced traditional tenure with an evaluation system that allows for the removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom and dramatically alters the practice of using seniority as the only factor in school district lay-offs. Other factors including performance and effectiveness must now be included in teacher evaluations, as will student achievement data.”

Sandoval also noted that for the first time in state history, the governor has the authority to appoint the state superintendent of public instruction, as well as members of the newly revised state Board of Education. The Board will also have members appointed by legislative leaders, as well as four members elected by the people of Nevada.

“A new statewide entity will also have responsibility over our charter schools, ensuring more quality choices are available to parents and students,” he said. “These are historic education reforms which will help improve the quality of Nevada’s education system.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, one of the sponsors of the two Assembly bills, said: “I am pleased the education reforms we began developing over the past year have now become law. These reforms are the result of months and months of discussions with business leaders, education experts, school officials, teachers, parents and other elected officials.

“I am convinced these reforms are going to make a big difference in our kids’ lives, creating a better learning experience, ensuring Nevada has a better educated citizenry, and setting us on a path to long-term economic growth,” she said.

AB225 changes post-probationary status for educators by requiring that if a post-probationary educator receives negative evaluations two years in a row, the teacher would be placed back on probationary status.

AB229 establishes a pay-for-performance program so educators are rewarded for positive outcomes, extends the probationary period from one to three years so there is adequate time to evaluate an educator, and adds as grounds for termination the definition of gross misconduct so educators who make egregious violations can be dismissed swiftly. It also provides that layoffs of educators must not be based solely on seniority.

Sandoval and legislative leaders agreed on the reforms as part of an agreement to extend tax hikes set to sunset on June 30 to add more revenue to the state budget.

One reform sought by Sandoval, to move towards a constitutionally permissible school voucher program, was not achieved in the 2011 session.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association and a long-time advocate for reform to Nevada’s public education system, said last week in an interview he believes the changes to the public education system will produce improved student achievement over the long term.

Others are not so sure.

Victor Joecks, communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, has called the education reforms minor and said they will have minimal impact on increasing student achievement in Nevada.


Reaction Mixed To Education, Policy Reforms Achieved As Part Of Deal To End Legislative Session

By Sean Whaley | 7:21 pm June 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – While some critics may never be convinced that Gov. Brian Sandoval should have agreed to support new tax revenue to balance the budget, the collection of reforms approved as part of the deal finalized this morning cannot be ignored.

From changes to Nevada’s collective bargain law allowing the reopening of labor agreements in emergencies to limiting teacher tenure to eliminating health insurance for newly hired state employees upon retirement – the changes approved in the 120-day legislative session by Democrats and Republicans could have far reaching impacts.

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association and a long-time advocate for reform to Nevada’s public education system, said it will take time to see the effects of the changes, which also include making the state superintendent of public instruction answerable to the governor rather than an elected board.

“It’s going to take a while to see real change in this thing but I believe we’re going to see real change in K-12 performance,” he said. “Could we have done more on improving the education reform and improving the public employee benefit changes, sure. But given the makeup of the two houses, quite frankly I’m pretty well stunned with what we did get.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, made note of the reforms in announcing his support of the tax extension bill on the Senate floor on Monday: “We’ll pass performance-based budgeting, collective bargaining and employee benefit reforms that will put our state on a path to fiscal sustainability.

“We also stressed this session the need for education system reforms that really does put our children first, education reforms that represent a shift in the right direction,” he said. “I’m not saying these reforms are the end all. They are a good start and I’m confident in the next session I leave behind some capable colleagues that will continue in these efforts.”

Not everybody is convinced that the reforms will result in real change.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, said on the Senate floor during the tax bill debate: “I don’t believe the concessions my colleagues made on the other side of the aisle will improve public education.”

Victor Joecks, communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, called the education reforms minor and said they will have minimal impact on increasing student achievement in Nevada.

“This differs from the governor’s original reform package, which included one-year contracts for teachers, vouchers and ending social promotion,” he said in a commentary.

There are those who wish more could have been done. Sandoval wanted to make a fundamental change to the public employees’ retirement system, but instead won only a study of the issue. While strongly supporting a change to the state constitution to allow a school voucher program, no progress was made on the issue in the 2011 session.

An effort to make some reforms to the state’s home construction defect laws failed when a bill failed to win passage in the Senate in the waning hours of the session. Supporters of reform in this area hailed the failure as a victory, however, calling Assembly Bill 401 no reform at all.

And in what could be called tax reform, the extension of business taxes and other levies that will bring in over $600 million in the next two years included the complete elimination of payroll taxes on Nevada’s 115,281 small businesses. Small businesses pay a 0.5 percent tax rate on their payrolls currently.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and other groups had sought reforms to education and public employee benefits this session in exchange for consideration of any additional revenues to fund the budget.

Democrats also sought reforms. Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, sponsored the bill seeking to restrict attorneys’ fees and reduce filing times for lawsuits in residential construction defects law. The construction industry dismissed the measure as inadequate, however, and argued for its defeat.

Oceguera took issue with the characterization of his bill, saying at a committee hearing that he worked with the construction industry to draft his bill.

“I asked for a list of the five most important things,” Oceguera said. “The three that are in this bill are the top three that you gave to me. So to say these aren’t important issues is disingenuous at least. These are the issues you told me you wanted to work on, and we worked on.”

But the Senate on Monday, sent the measure to defeat on a 12-9 vote.

The performance based budgeting bill, which has been signed into law by Sandoval, was sought by Oceguera and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.

The decision to support extending taxes came after a Nevada Supreme Court decision put into question a number of funding mechanisms proposed by Sandoval to balance the two-year budget that will begin July 1. While the ramifications of the decision were not entirely clear, Sandoval reluctantly opted to replace some local revenues proposed for his budget with the business and sales tax extensions.

The reforms were a requirement for his and Republican lawmaker support of the added revenues.

The reforms passed by the Nevada Legislature will:

  • End the seniority system in school district lay-offs. Other factors, including performance and effectiveness, must now be included.
  • Change collective bargaining for local government employees. Agreements will be re-opened during times of fiscal emergency and supervisory employees will not be allowed to collectively bargain.
  • Allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent of public instruction. A new state board will also have members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, as well as four members elected by the people of Nevada.
  • Save an estimated $275 million over the next 30 years by removing eligibility of newly hired state employees for health insurance benefits during retirement under the Public Employee Benefit Plan, effective January 1, 2012.
  • Conduct a complete analysis of PERS in order to give the 2013 Legislature and the governor information they need to address unfunded liability. The study must include recommendations with actuarially-sound alternatives.

Audio clips:

Manufacturers Association Executive Director Ray Bacon says it will take time to assess the effects of the education reforms:

060711Bacon1 :09 “in K-12 performance.”

Bacon says he is surprised at the number of reforms approved in the session:

060711Bacon2 :18 we did get.”

Sen. Mike McGinness says the reforms are significant:

060711McGinness1 :26 the right direction.”

McGinness says more gains can be made in 2013:

060711McGinness2 :11 continue these efforts.”

Sen. Barbara Cegavske says the education reforms approved by lawmakers aren’t sufficient:

060711Cegavske :07 improve public education.”


Freshman State Senator Shakes Up Mining Industry As Legislative Session Begins

By Sean Whaley | 9:21 am February 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Freshman Republican state Sen. Michael Roberson got a lot of people’s attention last week when he engaged in a brief but spirited line of questioning at a Judiciary Committee hearing with mining industry lobbyists.

On the job just one week, Roberson, R-Las Vegas, was trying to get information from the mining industry about their profits in Nevada. He was not satisfied with the answers, and said afterward the mining industry might be able to pay more in taxes, firing a shot across the bow of one the state’s most powerful industries.

Sen. Michael Roberson

Roberson, the only attorney on the Judiciary Committee and one of only two in the 21-member Senate, did not mince words with the industry lobbyists during a discussion of a measure to take away mining’s right to use eminent domain.

In an interview in his legislative office last week, Roberson said it is his job to get the answers, and he won’t stop until he does.

“What I wanted to know from mining, and I didn’t get a straight answer – how much money are the mining companies making here in Nevada,” Roberson said. “What’s their profit? I think that’s important for the people to know. And it was clear to me, the lobbyists for mining didn’t want to give me those numbers.”

Roberson says he is in complete agreement with GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval on the need to balance the next two-year state budget without a tax increase. But restructuring Nevada’s tax system to generate more income from mining while reducing the burden on small businesses, for example, is worth considering if taxes don’t increase overall, he said.

Watching Roberson take on one of the biggest players in the Nevada Legislature was an eye-opener for some observers, but should not come as a surprise. Roberson ran a tough campaign to unseat the better funded Democrat incumbent Joyce Woodhouse in the November election in District 5, paring the Democratic majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), which has been pushing for a tax increase on the mining industry, said Roberson’s comments at the hearing, “broke the sense of entitlement the mining lobbyists swagger around with.”

“It was very refreshing to see a legislator from Nevada have the guts to expose mining’s sweetheart tax loopholes in such a forceful way,” he said. “It shows we make mistakes – me and PLAN, or anybody – it shows we can’t pigeon-hole lawmakers based on party and ideology.”

Roberson knows a bit about the mining industry, or at least its sometimes less appealing aftermath. Raised in Galena, Kansas, a small mining town with a population of 3,300, he saw the effects of mining on the community in the 1960s after the minerals had been extracted and the companies had left.

“It can’t help but color how I see things because in my formative years that’s what I grew up with,” he said. “And again, I’m not against mining. I’m not anti-mining. I think it is an important industry to our state, especially to the rurals, and I want mining to thrive here in Nevada.

“But it took many years before the EPA came in and finally cleaned up Galena. In fact I had already moved away by the 1990s.”

Galena is the name of a lead-based mineral that was also found here in Northern Nevada. Galena Creek in south Reno and nearby Galena High School share the same name.

Roberson said Galena itself was the poorest area of the state. On his campaign website Roberson describes himself as coming from “modest beginnings.”

After graduating from high school, Roberson attended the University of Kansas where he graduated in 1993 with a political science degree. He then attended the University of Kansas School of Law on an academic scholarship, earning his degree in 1996.

Roberson said he was inspired to get involved in politics with by the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. He worked on the U.S. Senate campaign for Sam Brownback in 1996 and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1997, where he worked on Capitol Hill for then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. He then worked for a political fund-raising company named CAPTEL.

Roberson moved to Nevada in 2000 and is currently an attorney with the law firm of Kolesar & Leatham, Chtd.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said he first met Roberson at the GOP caucus meeting after the election and was impressed with his demeanor.

“He was not overly gabby but when he did talk, he was very thoughtful,” he said.

McGinness said Roberson’s line of questioning at the Judiciary hearing was appropriate, given the state’s budget situation.

“He went into the deep end of the pool right away,” he said. “He’ll do OK.”

Roberson, 40, said he enjoys serving in the Judiciary Committee and that the legislative process thus far is about what was expected. Roberson is also serving on the Natural Resources and Commerce, Labor and Energy committees.

“You never really know what it is going to be like but I guess this is generally how people described it to me before I got into this,” he said. “But I’m enjoying it. I really am.”

Being away from his wife, Liberty Leavitt-Roberson, a Clark County school teacher, and their two dogs, is one of the more difficult aspects of the job so far, but time away from family is part of the job description for a Southern Nevadan to serve in the Legislature in Carson City, he said.

“That’s the toughest part about this, I miss my wife, I miss my two little dogs, it’s tough being away from my family,” Roberson said. “It was tough not being with my wife on Valentine’s Day. But those are the sacrifices we make. We’ll be fine.”

While his comments on mining profits have garnered the most attention early in the session, Roberson said his legislative agenda includes reforms to public education and the collective bargaining process to try to drive down public employee salaries to make them comparable to the private sector.

Roberson said he wants a school choice program where parents can get a rebate for half the per pupil support to pick a private or public school or use the money for home schooling. It would require testing to show student achievement, he said. Roberson also wants a study of Florida’s school reforms to see which might work for Nevada.

Changes to collective bargaining are needed because the pay differential is 30 percent higher for public sector workers, he said.

“We’re never going to get control of this beast until we do something about narrowing that gap,” Roberson said.

His bills have not yet been introduced.

He would also support a change sought by Sandoval to change the public employee retirement system to a defined contribution plan for future hires.

But for now, mining is the hot topic for Roberson.

Richard Perkins, a lobbyist for the Newmont Mining Corp. and former speaker of the Assembly, said Roberson is thoughtful and asks good questions.

“But like any freshman legislator, Senate or Assembly, (he) is still trying to find his sea legs,” he said. “And the questions he asked this last week were a part of that process.”

The mining industry now needs to educate Roberson about the business and satisfy his concerns, Perkins said.

“His profile will more fully develop itself to all of us after that education occurs and we look at how he handles this specific issue,” he said.

Roberson said he does not yet know if the mining industry can afford to pay more, although he is inclined to believe the companies are doing OK.

“My general sense is mining is doing exceptionally well right now,” he said. “And I know for a fact small business in this state is on life-support.”

If that proves not to be the case, Roberson said he would not pursue a tax increase on the industry. But he wants the answers to the mining industry’s profitability in Nevada first and said he will get them.

Based on the exchange at the Feb. 14 judiciary hearing, the mining industry probably believes he won’t take no for an answer either.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says toughest part of job is being away from family:

022111Roberson1 :07 from my family.”

Roberson says it took long time for EPA to clean up his home town:

022111Roberson2 :17 by the 1990s.”

Roberson says he is not opposed to mining industry:

022111Roberson3 :16 here in Nevada.”

Roberson says he did not get a straight answer from mining on profits in Nevada:

022111Roberson4 :10 people to know.”

Roberson says mining lobbyists did not want to provide information:

022111Roberson5 :17 become more suspicious.”

Roberson says if restructuring of Nevada’s tax system makes sense and is revenue neutral, that is OK:

022111Roberson6 :08 open to discussing.”

Mining lobbyist Richard Perkins says Roberson’s questioning was part of his learning process as a freshman:

022111Perkins1 :10 of that process.”

Perkins says Roberson’s profile will become more clear after seeing how he handles the mining issue:

022111Perkins2 :08 this specific issue.”

Assembly Majority Leader Wants to Eliminate Nevada Revenue Volatility, Teacher Tenure

By Sean Whaley | 7:13 pm September 20th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera said today he believes the Legislature will have a great opportunity in 2011 to look at ways of broadening the state’s tax base to eliminate the volatility that has created Nevada’s boom and bust funding cycles.

Lawmakers have been working with Nevada business leaders, from mining to banking, and with labor groups, to find common ground on how to fix the state’s fiscal problems, Oceguera said in an interview Monday on the Nevada NewsMakers television program.

But finding revenue to fill an anticipated state budget gap won’t be the only issue on the agenda for lawmakers and the state’s business and labor leaders, he said. Expanding the state economy and bringing new business to Nevada are also issues lawmakers must address next year, Oceguera said.

Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, also said reforms to the state’s education system, including retaining the best teachers and eliminating teacher tenure, have to be on the agenda for discussion in the upcoming legislative session.

“We have to retain our best teachers, so I think eliminating teacher tenure would be high on the list,” he said.

Oceguera said the position of both of the state’s leading candidates for governor that they won’t raise taxes is the right approach to begin addressing the state budget shortfall, which state fiscal experts say will be as much as $3 billion. The figure is disputed by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which says the shortfall is much lower.

“We need to look at where we can find efficiencies in government,” he said. “Once we finish that process, we’ll have to see if there is something left over that needs to be taken care of on the revenue side.”


Audio clips:

Assembly Majority Leader John Oceguera says eliminating teacher tenure has to be considered as Legislature looks at education reform:

092010Oceguera1 :08 on the list.”

Oceguera says Legislature in 2011 will have a chance to fix volatility in state tax structure:

092010Oceguera2 :16 the tax base.”

Oceguera says lawmakers working with business and labor to deal with state’s challenges:

092010Oceguera3 :33 education component, so.”

GOP Governor Candidate Brian Sandoval Releases Education Plan, Calls For End To Tenure And Social Promotion

By Sean Whaley | 11:59 am June 30th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Republican governor candidate Brian Sandoval yesterday released his education plan, calling it a results oriented proposal that would end teacher tenure and the social promotion of students.

The former federal judge, who stepped down from a lifetime appointment to run for governor, also said his plan would be paid for with existing revenues and that no teacher layoffs would be required.

“The education system in Nevada does not measure up and is not providing all our children with the world class education they deserve,” Sandoval said.  “With our graduation rates the lowest in the nation, it’s time to get serious about reform and challenge the status quo.”

The state teacher’s union called several elements of the plan, such as vouchers and the elimination of tenure, a rehash of old ideas pushed by outgoing Gov. Jim Gibbons that are not supported by research. The union has endorsed Democrat candidate Rory Reid for governor.

A spokesman for Reid said Sandoval’s plan borrows from Reid’s EDGE education plan released in March with the addition of vouchers, which Reid does not support.

In his nine-page plan, Sandoval said the current performance evaluation system for teachers and principals is out-of-date and rewards endurance over performance. With recent changes to Nevada law requiring the use of student achievement data in evaluations, Sandoval said there is an opportunity “to modernize the entire system in ways that reward the best, inspire the average to improve, and dismiss those who are failing.”

Sandoval said his plan will require a majority of teacher and principal evaluations to be based on student achievement. Salary schedules based on time served and longevity stipends will no longer be allowed.

The plan would end social promotion by requiring any student who is not proficient on the state’s criterion-referenced reading test by the end of the third grade to be held back for focused reading instruction.

Sandoval said he also supports vouchers to allow parents to have access to private schools, but provided no details on how his proposal would operate.

His plan would also allow parents to move their children out of failing public schools. For schools receiving a “D” or “F” under the state accountability plan, local districts will be required to offer transportation to another school, including schools operated by the district or charter schools located in the same county.

Sandoval said he will also revive legislation killed by special interests in prior legislative sessions to create a Nevada Charter School Institute. The institute’s charge will be to issue charters for the operation of additional public schools that operate outside the constraints of the 17 local school districts.

Other elements of Sandoval’s plan would require schools to receive a letter grade. Schools that get A’s or improve by two letter grades will get extra funds. If a school fails two years in a row, the administrators will be replaced.

“It’s time for a fundamental change from the ground up and the top down,” Sandoval said.  “We must fight for our kids with focused accountability, real consequences, expanded opportunities for choice, and more local control over funding.”

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said Nevada’s schools are in crisis, rated last among the states in a recent survey for the quality of its public education, and Sandoval’s plan won’t bring improvement to public education.

“We’ve got a real crisis on our hands,” she said. “We’re going to need to address the funding issue at some point. This political posturing and re-baked Gibbons reform ideas didn’t fly in the past and won’t fly again.”

Reid campaign spokesman Mike Trask said Sandoval’s plan is clearly an effort to back away from a budget-balancing plan he proposed several months ago that would have laid off hundreds of teachers and cut funding for smaller class sizes.

“He clearly wants people to forget about that plan,” Trask said.

Some of the plan appears to borrow from proposals pushed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, where money was taken from failing schools and given to those that didn’t really need the additional funding, he said.

Reid, who released his “EDGE” education plan in March, said his plan would transition every school in Nevada to an EDGE school where community-based decision making would lead to improved student performance. EDGE stands for Economic Development through Great Education.


audio clips:

Reid spokesman Mike Trask on Sandoval plan:

063010Trask1 :27 points on vouchers.”

Trask says Sandoval plan borrows failed ideas from former Fla Gov. Jeb Bush:

063010Trask22 :24 don’t need it.”

Teacher Union President Lynn Warne says Sandoval plan a rehash of failed ideas:

063010Warne :19 in this state.”

Rory Reid Takes His Education Reform Plan to Northern Nevada, Rejects Vouchers as “Gimmick”

By Sean Whaley | 5:02 pm March 23rd, 2010

RENO – Democratic candidate for governor Rory Reid took his education reform plan to northern Nevada today, calling for a fundamental change to give principals, teachers and parents a much bigger say in how their schools operate.

Reid said his plan would transition every school in Nevada to an “EDGE” school where community-based decision making would lead to improved student performance. EDGE stands for Economic Development through Great Education.

Reid said in his plan principals would have control over curriculum, staffing and scheduling and discretion to spend more pupil funding on the best programs and services for students. Teachers would have more freedom in the classroom as well.

Reid also said in an interview today with the Nevada News Bureau that he supports open enrollment, whereby parents would be able to move their child to another public school if their local school was failing.

“Parents should be able to vote with their feet if they believe that a school isn’t serving their child’s needs,” he said.

While supporting competition among public schools, Reid said he does not support the idea of voucher schools, where parents would receive tax dollars to enroll their children in private schools.

“I think vouchers, frankly, are a political gimmick,” he said. “They take money from one system and give it to another.”

Reid’s position on vouchers sets him apart from the three major Republican candidates for governor. Governor Jim Gibbons, former North Las Vegas mayor Mike Montandon and former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval have all endorsed the voucher school concept.

Gibbons had asked the Legislature via Proclamation in the special session that concluded March 1 to consider a voucher school proposal, but there was never a bill introduced and lawmakers adjourned without addressing the issue. The request to consider his “scholarship” plan for students, along with several other education-related proposals, was included in an amended Proclamation signed by Gibbons on Feb. 24.

Montandon said today there are challenges in crafting a voucher bill to get around the limitations on using public tax dollars for private schools, but that such challenges should not stop elected officials from trying.

“It’s the only way teachers will ever get paid what they deserve,” he said. “If there is competition with private schools to get the best teachers, we don’t even need to discuss merit pay.”

Reid said his EDGE plan is revenue neutral and would generate additional classroom dollars by reducing the amount spent on administration. He noted that Baltimore’s school reform program was initiated with $165 million in central-office budget cuts, of which $88 million was diverted to local schools.

Reid says his plan, a year in the making, borrows the best elements found in magnet, empowerment, charter and traditional public schools. The key to a school’s success are principals who are given the power to lead, teachers who are freed from arbitrary regulation and parents who are engaged, he said.

Successful schools are also critical to the state’s efforts at economic growth and diversification, Reid said.

“We’re never going to have a strong economy unless we have strong schools,” he said. “They are linked.”

While there might be some opposition to his plan, Reid says Nevada’s public education system is broken and needs to be fixed, and that his plan will accomplish this goal.

Audio file:

MP3 – Rory Reid on EDGE Plan