Posts Tagged ‘Erquiaga’

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.

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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.”

 

Gov. Sandoval Taking Two Pronged Approach To Addressing Potential $656 Million Budget Shortfall

By Sean Whaley | 5:35 pm May 27th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Sandoval administration is pursuing two paths in an effort to resolve a potentially massive budget shortfall, seeking clarification from the Nevada Supreme Court on the case that created the issue and working with lawmakers on potential additional revenues should they be necessary.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, briefed a number of interested parties on the developments since the state’s high court dropped the potential budget bombshell on the Legislature yesterday.

“The Supreme Court, in a rather dramatic decision, presented us with a math problem,” he said. “They didn’t present us with a crisis, and they didn’t present us with something insurmountable.”

In a decision rejecting the Legislature’s right to use $62 million from a Southern Nevada water fund to help balance the current budget, the court intimated that as much as $656 million proposed by Sandoval to be used in the upcoming budget could be legally unavailable.

Erquiaga said the first course of action was for Sandoval early this morning to ask Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to ask the court to clarify if its decision was narrowly focused on the $62 million clean water fund sweep, or if the decision should be interpreted more broadly to cover other proposed uses of local funds to help balance the governor’s proposed $6.1 billion spending plan.

“Again, did the court mean $62 million, or did the court mean to take the broadest interpretation possible, thus putting at risk an amount ten times that size, and really, forever changing the way we budget in the state of Nevada,” Erquiaga said.

“These revenue mechanisms have been used for anyone’s recent memory here,” he said. “All of the revenue mechanisms that the governor included in his budget except one have been used by prior legislatures. For the court to say you can’t use that kind of money anymore will forever change the way we budget.”

Erquiaga said that if the issue is only the $62 million water fund sweep, the Legislature can move forward with adopting Sandoval’s proposed two-year budget. Sandoval would like the court to act quickly on the clarification request so the Legislature can complete its work by June 6, the constitutionally mandated final day of the session, he said.

On the budgetary front, Sandoval has met with lawmakers from both parties and both houses to discuss the possible continuation of some of the tax increases set to sunset June 30 as a source of new revenue should it be needed to balance the budget, Erquiaga said.

About $679 million could be generated if the taxes were extended another two years. The taxes include a sales tax piece and a higher modified business tax for the state’s largest employers, but Sandoval will not support continuing all of the higher levies, he said.

So if $656 million is needed to balance the budget, Sandoval will look to other revenues, but not new taxes, Erquiaga said.

“If sunsets are called into play, you may be assured that the margin tax and the service tax are not,” he said.

These new taxes were proposed by legislative Democrats in recent weeks as a way to augment the budget.

As part of these tax discussions, Sandoval and Republican lawmakers are seeking a number of policy reforms as part of any such continuation, Erquiaga said.

Some of the reforms being discussed this session include changes to Nevada’s collective bargaining law, the elimination of teacher tenure, and others.

“It is critical to the governor that reforms be included in any final solution,” Erquiaga said.

He would not disclose the specifics of the reforms under discussion.

Charles Blumenthal, communications director for the Assembly Democratic Caucus, said legislative leadership is having productive discussions every day trying to work through the process and get a budget agreement.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the Supreme Court presented the governor and Legislature a math problem, not a crisis:

052711Erquiaga4 :10 with something insurmountable.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval wants the court to clarify its intent:

052711Erquiaga1 :14 state of Nevada.”

Erquiaga says the revenue mechanisms used in Sandoval’s budget have been used before:

052711Erquiaga2 :16 way we budget.”

Erquiaga says policy reforms have to be part of any budget solution:

052711Erquiaga3 :05 any final solution.”

 

Senate Debate On Gov. Sandoval’s Public Schools Budget Sees No Vote, Fireworks

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm April 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The debate over Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed cuts to public education shifted to the state Senate today, with members of the upper house getting the details of the reductions that the Clark County schools chief said would mean the loss of $400 million for a 19 percent cut in funding.

But there was no effort by Democrats, who control the Senate with a narrow 11-10 advantage, to force a vote on the schools budget as occurred yesterday in a more contentious Assembly hearing. There were no fireworks either.

The Senate heard from a number of school officials talking about the effects of the cuts proposed in Sandoval’s budget, as well as a defense of the plan from Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger.

Sen. Steven Horsford watches as Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert and Budget Director Andrew Clinger testify in the Senate today./Photo: Nevada News Bureau

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger and Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert testify in the Senate today as Sen. Steven Horsford watches./Photo: Nevada News Bureau

Clark schools chief Dwight Jones said that if the teachers union does not agree to benefit concessions the district is looking at layoffs of 2,500 to 3,000 employees. Class sizes would also likely increase, by three students in elementary grades and two students in the secondary grades, he said. The textbook and supplies budget would likely see a 50 percent cut as well.

Jones acknowledged, however, that the tough economic conditions facing the state have proved to be an impetus to make reforms to the delivery of education in the district.

Gansert reiterated the Sandoval position that new taxes are not an option for the upcoming two-year budget because of the need to let the economy recover and for Nevada businesses to begin adding jobs.

She noted that the most recent unemployment report for March showed job growth for the first time in 37 months.

Gansert also defended the use of more than $300 million in school district bond reserve funds to fund operating costs for schools, a controversial element of Sandoval’s spending plan for public education. The proposal was put forward to avoid even more severe cuts to public education, she said.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, started the proceedings for the Committee of the Whole by saying bringing the details of the public education budget to the full Senate is critical to reaching a compromise on spending. He rejected a suggestion that the hearings are a “farce.”

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford presides over the Committee of the Whole discussion on public education today/Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“Some in the Legislature have characterized these Committee of the Whole proceedings as a dog and pony show or a farce intended to politically embarrass members of this body,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The Committee of the Whole in the Senate is about serious business of the state of Nevada that must be resolved.”

Horsford said he cannot accept the education cuts proposed in Sandoval’s two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget, and that he is willing to compromise. There is no question that any budget approved by the Legislature will include severe cuts to all areas of spending, he said.

“I am prepared to stay here as long as it takes, but I would prefer that we meet our constitutional deadline of passing a budget by June 6,” Horsford said. “That means we must begin working together now to find the common ground and compromises that will allow that to happen.”

In a briefing after the administration presentation, Gansert and Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, reiterated the governor’s positions on the education budget and taxes.

“We were very careful in putting this budget together, we believe it is sound and it is reasonable,” Gansert said. “We made extra efforts to mitigate the cuts or make them as small as possible to education because that is a priority of the governor’s.”

Erquiaga said that while the administration is interested in reforms sought by Assembly Republicans in such areas as collective bargaining and the prevailing wage, that those issues must be considered on their own merits.

“He certainly welcomes a conversation about reforms, but we need to have a conversation about reforms in this state based on the merits of that proposal, not horse trading,” he said.

The actual level of funding remains a point of contention between Democrats in the Legislature and the Sandoval administration. Democrats say some elements of the proposal are budget cuts, with the governor’s staff disagreeing with the characterization.

Information prepared by legislative fiscal staff provided to lawmakers shows more than $1 billion proposed “major reductions” to school districts. These numbers come from a variety of sources:

  • $600 million from freezing teachers’ pay increases, reducing salaries by 5 percent and making teachers contribute more to their retirement plans.
  • $238 million from the governor’s direct reductions to state support for public schools.
  • $221 million of room tax money continues to shift from supporting schools to the state general fund, as it does in the current budget.

The Senate hearing was more subdued that the marathon session in the Assembly that lasted more than six hours Tuesday. The Assembly session deteriorated later in the evening with accusations and complaints levied by members of the lower house at each other.

In the end, Republicans and Democrats remained firmly entrenched in their positions, with the 16 GOP members supporting Sandoval’s budget recommendations and the 26 Democrats seeking some compromise that would require some form of as yet unidentified tax increase.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on June 6.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says Committee of the Whole meetings are way to find compromise on budget:

042011Horsford1 :26 must be resolved.”

Horsford says budget compromise will require acting like adults:

042011Horsford2 :29 and trying circumstances.”

Horsford says he will stay in Carson City as long as it takes to find compromise on public school funding:

042011Horsford3 :19 that to happen.”

Clark County schools chief Dwight Jones says Sandoval’s budget means a 19 percent cut:

042011Jones :24 about our work.”

Sandoval Chief of Staff Heidi Gansert says every effort was made to minimize cuts to public education;

042011Gansert :13 of the governor’s.”

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says a discussion of reforms is welcome, but not as a trade off for tax hikes:

042011Erquiaga :15 not horse trading.”

 

 

Senate Panel Hears Proposal To Move Nevada Toward School Choice

By Sean Whaley | 8:24 pm April 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A proposed amendment to the Nevada constitution to allow a future Legislature to create a school voucher program so parents could get state funding to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, was heard by a Senate panel today.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, if ultimately approved by Nevada voters, would not create a school voucher program. Instead, it would clarify that using public funds to educate children at religious schools would not violate a constitutional prohibition on using tax dollars for a sectarian purpose.

The legislation, sought by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, would make it clear in the state constitution that a voucher program including religious schools would not violate Nevada’s Blaine Amendment dating back more than 140 years, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections took testimony on the measure, the first voucher school proposal to get a hearing in the 2011 legislative session. The hearing featured testimony from several well-spoken children in Las Vegas asking members of the committee to support the legislation.

Roberson said Nevada’s Blaine amendment dates back to the 19th century and is a relic of anti-Catholic bigotry from that time.

“Blaine amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th century,” he said. “SJR10 would simply give the people of Nevada the opportunity to decide at the ballot whether the current Blaine amendment is good policy for 21st century Nevada.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval is seeking the same constitutional change in support of a school voucher program. The governor’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, spoke in support of SJR10, but said also the governor would pursue a hearing on AJR8 as well. AJR8 contains the same language as Roberson’s bill, but also includes a section describing how the voucher program would work.

The language in AJR8 would allow a parent to send a child to private school and receive in exchange at least half of the funding that the public school would have received if the child had attended public school. The remaining half would be made available based on financial need.

Erquiaga said there are currently 18 voucher programs operating in 12 states.

“I think you all know by now this governor supports school choice and school vouchers as part of that program,” he said.

The proposal, which was not immediately acted on by the panel, saw opposition testimony as well.

Craig Stevens, representing the Nevada State Education Association, said private schools can and should exist, but they are private to keep government regulation out of their classrooms. Why should a private school receive tax money if it is not going to be accountable to the taxpayers, he asked.

Nevada has choice, with magnet schools and charter schools, but they are all public schools that are accountable to taxpayers, Stevens said.

Also testifying in opposition was Allen Lichtenstein, a Las Vegas attorney representing the ACLU of Nevada, who said in his prepared remarks: “SJR10 attempts to do away with the wisdom of the early founders of our state, and a mechanism used to insure religious harmony for well over the past century, for a new scheme that in the name of furthering education, is, in fact, designed to aid religion with our tax money.”

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, said the district’s school board is in opposition as well.

In his testimony, Roberson said the proposal would not create a voucher program. If it was approved by the Legislature in two sessions and then by the voters, it would clear the way for lawmakers to craft a school choice program that would allow tax funds to be spent at religious schools, he said.

Roberson said if created, a voucher program would improve public schools by making them more competitive. School choice does not drain funding from public schools either, he said. States and cities that have school choice programs have increased per pupil spending, Roberson said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says the prohibition on spending tax dollars on religious schools in Nevada dates back to 19th century religious bigotry:

041211Roberson1 :11 early 20th century.”

Roberson says his proposal would let voters decide if this prohibition should be repealed:

041211Roberson2 :12 21st century Nevada.”

Roberson says his proposal would not immediately create a school voucher program:

041211Roberson3 :23 existing federal law.”

Roberson says school choice programs don’t financially harm existing public schools:

041211Roberson4 :08 the program began.”

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Sandoval says the governor supports school choice:

041211Erquiaga :18 of that program.”

 

Legislative Democrats, Sandoval Administration Remain At Odds Over State Budget

By Sean Whaley | 4:32 pm March 28th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A two-hour review by the full Senate today of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed two-year, $5.8 billion general fund budget spent a lot of time on what his spending plan could mean well into the future.

A report to the state Senate, meeting as a Committee of the Whole to hear an update on the recommended budget, shows the danger of future budget shortfalls because of the use of one-time funding options by Sandoval to balance the upcoming 2011-13 budget that will start July 1.

The 2013-15 budget faces a nearly $1.1 billion hole because some of Sandoval’s proposed revenues will not recur in future budget years, according to data provided by legislative fiscal staff.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said it is not responsible for lawmakers to approve such a budget.

“This governor’s budget creates a $1.2 billion-$1.3 billion hole in the next budget in 2013,” he said. “That is irresponsible of us as legislators to create a hole for another Legislature to deal with.”

The Sandoval administration rejected the criticism, saying decisions have to be made about the budget every legislative session. The analysis was also based on no revenue growth, which is unrealistic.

“There are decisions that will have to be made next time in the budget just like there are every time we put a budget together,” said state Budget Director Andrew Clinger. “So to say that we’re going to have a $1.1 billion hole assumes you make no decisions and change nothing and that the economy doesn’t grow at all. And those are just two assumptions that are just not valid.”

The 2009 Legislature approved temporary tax increases to balance the budget. These expiring increases have contributed to the lower revenue projections for Sandoval’s budget.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said: “We need for the Legislature to start closing this budget.”

Today’s budget discussion made it clear the Sandoval administration and legislative Democrats, led by Horsford and his Assembly counterpart, Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, remain far apart on an acceptable spending plan.

“I’m not prepared to support the level of reductions that are proposed,” Horsford said at the conclusion of the budget review. “I think there is a lot we can still agree on.

“My hope is that as we talk about the cuts that we will have to make, the reforms that we’ve agreed should occur, that we will also talk about the revenue that is needed to responsibly balance this budget,” Horsford said. “And if we can do that in a cooperative way, then we should be able to close down the budget in a timely manner.

“If not, then it is going to mean doing business in a totally different way than we’ve ever done it before,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, said the briefing was helpful but appeared to be designed to put a scare into his colleagues in an effort to advance the premise that additional tax revenues are needed to balance the budget.

“I think it was probably designed to scare us all a little bit,” he said.

Asked if it worked, McGinness said no.

McGinness said his caucus remains firmly opposed to any tax increases, or the continuing of taxes set to expire June 30, to balance the budget.

Sandoval has said repeatedly he will reject any budget that comes to his office with a tax or fee increase.

With Sandoval’s threat of a veto of any budget with tax or fee increases, Democrats in the Legislature face a tough sell to their GOP colleagues to gather enough votes to override a veto. Democrats would need three Republican votes in the Senate, and two GOP votes in the Assembly, to approve tax or fee increases over the objection of Sandoval.

The hole in future budgets was detailed in a report by Russell Guindon, a fiscal analyst for the Legislature, who said tax revenues would have to grow at 12.6 percent in 2014 and 2015 to make up for the loss of the one-time revenues included by Sandoval for the upcoming budget. Such levels of revenue growth are probably not attainable, he said.

Revenue growth for the state budget is officially set by a panel of private sector appointees called the Economic Forum.

One example of the future budget hole is a plan by Sandoval to borrow on the Insurance Premium Tax to generate $190 million to avoid cuts to various health and human resources programs. This would require payments of $53 million over four years starting in 2014 to pay for the revenue option for the upcoming budget.

Another is the proposal to use $300 million in school district bond reserve funds to fund public education operating costs.

Guindon acknowledged that the future budget hole estimated in his analysis would be less if tax revenues grow.

The hearing was cordial but a request by McGinness that Clinger be permitted to testify in the committee hearing was not granted. Clinger would have been able to provide information on a budget amendment submitted to the Legislature earlier in the day showing $120 million more in revenue for the budget than previously estimated, he said.

Horsford said the budget amendment came late and would have to be taken up at a future discussion.

In a statement announcing the revenue increase prior to the Senate budget update, Sandoval said: “I am pleased to announce that this amendment adds more than $120 million in revenue projections – the majority of which I have directed toward K-12 education.”

The budget discussion in the Senate did not include this new revenue, which is coming primarily from adjustments to the Net Proceeds of Minerals Tax and a higher level of federal support for Medicaid based on per capita personal income in Nevada.

The revenue increase does not mean more money in Sandoval’s budget, however. Instead, Clinger said the additional revenue will mean a reduction in the amount of bond reserve funds held by school districts needed to fund public education operating costs for the next two years.

Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Sandoval, also said the insurance premium tax proposal is a last resort that will be used only if needed. Gansert also questioned the pay-back numbers discussed in the Senate hearing.

There was some modest cause for optimism about the budget. Clinger said he expects the Economic Forum to revise its revenue projections upwards when it meets May 2. Any additional revenue would be used by Sandoval and lawmakers to restore critical cuts to the budget.

Audio clips:

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford says the hearing was intended to show the challenges facing lawmakers in balancing the budget:

032811Horsford1 :24 approve this budget.”

Horsford says the budget discussion needs to address new revenues as well:

032811Horsford2 :14 balance this budget.”

Horsford says if Legislature can have an adult discussion with Sandoval on the budget, it will be closed on time:

032811Horsford3 :13 done it before.”

Horsford says Sandoval’s budget creates a huge hole in future budgets:

032811Horsford4 :15 to deal with.”

State Budget Director Andrew Clinger says analysis of future budget hole is unrealistic:

032811Clinger :21 just not valid.”

Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness says GOP not convinced tax increases are needed:

032811McGinness :08 don’t think so.”

 

Gov. Sandoval Seeks Justification For Continued Existence Of 183 State Boards

By Sean Whaley | 4:20 pm January 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – They have names like the Landscape Architecture Board, the Nevada Arts Council and the Commission on Mineral Resources, and there are more than 180 of them functioning within Nevada state government.

Gov. Brian Sandoval says it’s time to take a look at these dozens of boards and commissions to determine if they are still needed or if some can be consolidated or eliminated in the name of government efficiency.

In his State of the State address Jan. 24, Sandoval said: “I will work with legislative leadership to introduce a bill that ‘sunsets’ every licensing and advisory board now on the books. More than 180 of these entities require gubernatorial appointments. Under our proposal, boards and commissions will sunset at the end of June 2013, giving us plenty of time to eliminate, consolidate, or improve functions among those that must remain.”

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said in an interview last week that the first objective of the review is to improve state government efficiency. But cost savings could also result if some board operations can be combined, using one staff to provide clerical, legal and other administrative support to multiple panels, he said.

Many of the boards are small organizations that meet infrequently at best. Others serve major functions for the state, from the Gaming Commission to the Board of Medical Examiners.

“First and foremost it is about efficiency and responsive government,” Erquiaga said. “If we have that many boards and commissions, are we really serving constituents well?

“We have 183 of them just on our side,” he said. “There are other commissions we don’t appoint. It’s harder and harder for the attorney general to staff. It’s harder and harder for the administrative assistants and the departments to staff them. So really first it’s about efficiency and responsiveness. The cost savings will follow on.”

Erquiaga said some in the medical community have advocated for the consolidation of the services provided to the many different medical boards, from the State Board of Nursing to the Board of Medical Examiners to the Nevada State Board of Oriental Medicine.

“They each have an executive director and they each have a lawyer and they each have a secretary,” he said. “Couldn’t there be some ‘back of house’ consolidation there if you can’t consolidate the boards?”

Many of the state’s major and important boards, from the Gaming Commission to the Public Utilities Commission to the Colorado River Commission clearly will continue to operate, Erquiaga said.

“There are some others that perhaps might not,” he said.

Appointees to many of the boards are paid a modest stipend for attending a meeting, typically $80, plus travel and expenses.

Sandoval isn’t the first to make such a recommendation. The Nevada SAGE Commission, created by former Gov. Jim Gibbons to recommend efficiencies in state government, suggested a similar review.

One of the recommendations from the Savings and Government Efficiency Commission was to create a statutory panel of lawmakers and administrative staff in part to periodically review if there are duplication of efforts, efficiencies to be achieved and potential elimination of functions for the many state boards.

The commission said in its final report: “The state needs a formal process and structure to review on a rotating basis every 10 years the requirement for, as well as the policies and programs of, those state agencies and commissions not created by the constitution; . . .”

Carole Vilardo, president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association and a member of the SAGE Commission, said the consolidation of some boards could lead to savings in personnel costs with the better use of deputies in the attorney general’s office or with hearing officers.

One example offered up in discussions was consolidating the staffing of the barber and cosmetology-related boards, she said.

“We get so caught up in what the current issues are we don’t take a look at what may have outlived its usefulness,” Vilardo said.

Vilardo said it took a long time for the state to eliminate its selective service panel after there was no longer a draft.

The Legislature has taken note of the issue as well.

The Legislative Commission in May agreed to draft a bill to repeal an old statute creating the state’s Advisory Council on the Metric System.

The seven-member council was created in 1981 when the federal government was moving forward with a program of getting the states to convert to the metric system. Congress in 1975 passed the Metric Conversion Act to plan for the conversion.

That effort was derailed in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan eliminated funding for the conversion effort. The state advisory council, placed under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, has not met since the mid-1980s.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says too many boards may be creating inefficiencies:

013111Erquiaga1 :07 serving constituents well.”

Erquiaga says there is likely room for some consolidation:

013111Erquiaga3 :06 need 183 boards.”

Future Of Millennium Scholarship Focus Of State Lawmaker Interest In Upcoming Session

By Sean Whaley | 3:34 pm January 27th, 2011

CARSON CITY – While several state lawmakers say they are seeking changes to the popular Millennium Scholarship for Nevada’s academically successful high school graduates, no one yet is pushing for income eligibility restrictions to ensure the program’s continued viability.

None of the five bills requested so far dealing with the program, which has faced funding problems in recent years due to budget cuts and reduced revenues, seeks to restrict eligibility to those in financial need.

Two measures, one by former state Sen. Bill Raggio, and another requested by the Senate Finance Committee, were requested to ensure continuation of the program.

The need for these two measures will now be evaluated based on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommendation to continue the program as is. He has proposed adding $10 million in general funds to ensure its financial viability through 2016.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the governor would consider legislation to impose a means test for eligibility, or seek to restrict the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“The first priority was to keep the program whole,” he said. “And really there are two schools of thought in this building and I don’t think there is consensus yet so we will participate in that conversation.”

Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, said he is seeking a requirement that high school students perform community service in addition to the GPA requirement to qualify for the scholarship.

“It would teach them the concept of service, get them out into the community and make them more well-rounded persons,” he said. “They would network with people, do good things and have a better resume.”

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, said his proposal would require eligible Millennium scholars to first fill out a federal financial aid form. Students eligible for federal aid or private sector scholarships would then use those funds first, offsetting the need for the Millennium scholarship awards.

“We have the potential to make the Millennium scholarship last longer if eligible students take advantage of other sources of funding first,” he said.

If a student was ineligible for other funding, there would be no restriction on the use of the Millennium Scholarship in his proposed legislation, Settelmeyer said.

Probably the most restrictive of the measures sought so far comes from Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said he will introduce a bill to limit eligibility for the scholarship to students who pursue specified courses of study.

“It makes sense to reform the program to make it more tailored to our areas of special need,” he said. “It would be a good incentive to lure new people into education as a way to help fund the education training that we need for new teachers.”

Courses of study critical to Nevada’s economic development would also be part of his proposal, which remains a work in progress, Kieckhefer said.

“As our needs change as a state in creating new jobs, we want to have the educated workforce to fill those areas of need,” he said. “If we can leverage something like the Millennium scholarship to ensure that people are trained to fill those jobs, I think that makes sense.

“It is a subject area test, not a means test,” Kieckhefer said.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the purpose of the committee bill draft is to extend the life of the scholarship.

“I was very pleased that the governor announced $10 million in his budget for that and hope that we will be able to sustain that throughout the budget process so we can extend the life of the program because it is important to the students of the state,” he said.

Horsford said he would not support a change to the program based on financial need.

“I think that the merit based emphasis based on GPA is important to preserve,” he said.

While a separate issue, Horsford said that if student fees are increased in the coming two years as expected, it will be important to ensure there is financial aid available to those in need.

The scholarship currently provides about $25 million per year to Nevada high school graduates who attend a Nevada institution of higher learning. Initial eligibility requirements include graduating from a Nevada high school with a minimum 3.25 grade point average.

About 8,000 high school graduates per year are eligible to receive a millennium scholarship, of which about 60 percent choose to activate their award.

The scholarship ranges from $40 to $80 per college credit hour depending on the college attended. The scholarship limit is $10,000.

The scholarship is named after the late Gov. Kenny Guinn, who established it during his first term as governor.

Audio clips:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says the governor is open to possible changes to Millennium Scholarship eligibility:

012711Erquiaga :22 the program alive.”

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer says it makes sense to tailor the program to Nevada’s specific needs:

012711Kieckhefer1 :08 of special need.”

Kieckhefer says teaching and areas of study relating to economic development should be the focus of the scholarship:

012711Kieckhefer2 :11 of economic development.”

Kieckhefer says leveraging the scholarship to help develop an educated workforce makes sense:

012711Kieckhefer3 :15 that makes sense.”

Sen. Steven Horsford says the scholarship is important to Nevada’s high school graduates:

012711Horsford1 :14 of the state.”

Horsford says he does not favor a means test for the scholarship:

012711Horsford2 :05 important to preserve.”

Gov. Sandoval To Pursue Constitutional Change For School Choice

By Sean Whaley | 2:02 pm January 14th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval will seek a constitutional amendment in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature to allow for public tax dollars to be used in a school voucher program that would include religious schools, a staff member said this week.

Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga, in a briefing with the media on Thursday, said a voucher bill submitted by former Gov. Jim Gibbons will be rewritten by the Sandoval administration. Sandoval intends to pursue the constitutional change, he said.

Changing the Nevada constitution is a complex process that would take as many as six years to accomplish, including voter approval.

“We will carry a voucher bill, . . . but our voucher bill will be a proposed constitutional amendment,” Erquiaga said. “We think the voucher program ought to cover all schools and they way they’ve done it, proposed to do it, would not be quite as comprehensive.”

Erquiaga did not elaborate on Sandoval’s school voucher plan.

There is currently a provision in the Nevada constitution that prohibits using public tax dollars for religious purposes.

Article 11, Section 10 of the Nevada constitution is a provision called a Blaine Amendment dating back to statehood, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

Repealing the Blaine Amendment would require the Legislature to pass Sandoval’s proposal in two consecutive legislative sessions and then have it go to a vote of the people, which could not occur before 2014.

A handful of state lawmakers have tried and failed over the years to establish a voucher plan for Nevada students, giving parents a share of their taxes spent on public education so they can pick a school that best meets the needs of their children.

While other states have had some success, such measures have gone nowhere in Nevada. Two bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2009 to begin such programs. Neither bill got a hearing.

Gibbons tried without success in the 2010 special legislative session to get a hearing on a school voucher proposal that would have changed state law, not the constitution, and so not have required a vote of the people.

The proposal would have provided 75 percent of the local school district’s pupil support to licensed private schools, with no automatic exclusion for religious schools. The constitutional prohibition was to be avoided by a determination of the amount of religious instruction. If a religious-based school spent 25 percent or less of its time on religious instruction, then it would be argued the 75 percent state support would go to the academic instruction portion of the curriculum.

Critics were skeptical that such a law would withstand a legal challenge.

But the measure submitted by Gibbons prior to leaving office, Senate Bill 71, would exclude “faith-based” private schools from participating in the voucher program.

Erquiaga said Sandoval also will address the collective bargaining issue in his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 24, but he will not call for the complete elimination of the law as proposed by the out-going Gibbons administration in Senate Bill 41.

There is another collective bargaining reform bill, Senate Bill 78, requested by the City of Reno, that seeks reforms to the collective bargaining process, Erquiaga said.

Audio:

Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says a school voucher plan including religious schools is part of the governor’s 2011 agenda:

011411Erquiaga1 :08 quite as comprehensive.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will propose a constitutional amendment so religious schools can be included:

011411Erquiaga2 :08 proposed constitutional amendment.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will seek reforms to Nevada’s collective bargaining law, but will not seek complete repeal:

011411Erquiaga3 :16 elimination of it.”