Posts Tagged ‘UNR’

Reno Selected For IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 10:33 am November 29th, 2012

CARSON CITY – The city of Reno has been selected as one of only 100 recipients of IBM’s prestigious Smarter Cities Challenge grant for 2013.

Partners in the project include the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, University of Nevada, Reno, EDAWN, Desert Research Institute and the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization.

“Being chosen as one of IBM’s Smart Cities signals to the rest of the country, and internationally, that Reno is a community ready for knowledge-based economic expansion,” said Heidi Gansert, special assistant to the president for external affairs at UNR.

“The university is pleased to be part of the Smart Cities Team and will work with the city of Reno and other partners to help drive the local and statewide economy through workforce development, innovation and research,” she said in a statement earlier this month.

The $400,000 grant provides professional consulting and services and will allow Reno to create sophisticated analytics software which will provide citizens and developers complete access to information on properties within the city.

Brian Bonnenfant, program manager for the University’s Center for Regional Studies in the College of Business, said the spatial fiscal-impact model will allow for quicker turnaround on economic development projects and more informed decisions by city leaders.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to build a system that’s important to economic development in the region,” Bonnenfant said. “We’re thrilled to be involved with this important work. We’ve worked on projects like this in the past in other communities – and specific projects in Reno – and see the possibilities this grant opens up.

“I see a variety of entities at the university becoming involved, such as the College of Engineering and the College of Science,” he said. “We’ve all worked with the city on a number of projects and have a number of resources this project can draw from.”

The Reno City Council approved a resolution in August to apply for the IBM grant to “develop a plan for the city, University of Nevada, Reno, and the Desert Research Institute to effectively coordinate economic development opportunities, especially through the implementation of technology commercialization, and thereby stimulate job creation in the city of Reno and the surrounding region.”

Higher Education Budget Could Be Cut Further Under Legislative Proposal

By Andrew Doughman | 3:40 pm May 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The budget situation for Nevada’s universities and colleges may have worsened today as legislators voted to both cut and restore funding for higher education.

Democratic legislators first voted to restore $100 million to the higher education budget, but Democrats also continued to oppose a shift of Washoe and Clark County property tax money from county governments to the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

That property tax shift represents $120 million that the universities were counting on in the governor’s recommended general fund budget.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said legislators fully intend to replace that money with general fund dollars.

But Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, was not so sure.

“That decision has not been finalized,” he said.

Horsford said backfilling that $120 million hole is “one of the options” the Legislature may consider.

If the Legislature does nothing, Nevada’s higher education world may be worse off than it was under Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommended general fund budget.

“If they don’t replace the property tax money they took out, we’re in very bad shape,” said Jim Richardson, a lobbyist for the Nevada Faculty Alliance.

Richardson said he had thought the Legislature would either apply the property tax shift to all 17 counties or use general fund dollars instead.

Legislature Votes To Reduce Tuition Increase By 13 Percent

Students, however, might feel a little better after legislators on two money committees voted today to support a 13 percent tuition increase spread over the next two years rather than a 26 percent increase, as was proposed earlier.

That would mean the universities would have to find more money because many colleges and universities assumed a 26 percent increase.

“That money has to be cut from somewhere and it would appear that means program cuts and layoffs,” said professor Gregory Brown of the UNLV Faculty Alliance.

The 13 percent tuition increase would bring Nevada’s colleges and universities about $42.4 million during the next two years.

The problem is, higher education administrators were counting on the $120 million worth of property tax diversions in addition to revenues collected through tuition.

The votes, however, all hinge on the Legislature passing new taxes or extending current ones, which are scheduled to sunset June 30. If that does not happen, legislators would have to re-examine these actions.

“We closed the budget, but the funding has not been identified so you can’t get too excited yet,” Smith said. “All you can count on is what we did today, and that’s contingent on us finding the revenue …It’s a budget in motion.”

Sandoval has recommended a two-year, higher-education budget that was $254 million less than the amount of money the Legislature approved during the 2010 special session.

That would be reduced to a $112 million cut if the Board of Regents approves the tuition increases and the Legislature finds $100 million to give to colleges and universities. The Legislature would also have to find $120 million to replace the funding that would have gone to higher education through the local property tax diversion.

Before today, legislators had anticipated following Klaich’s four-point plan, which would have called for $80 million in new revenue and a 26 percent tuition increase.

Students had testified before a legislative committee about keeping tuition low before legislators voted to recommend a 13 percent increase to the Board of Regents, which makes the final call on student fees.

Republicans largely objected to the $100 million in new revenue.

“I don’t know where we’re going to get the money to pay for this,” said Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno. “I just think we don’t have the money. At this point in the game, this is kind of where I have to stand.”

At this point in the legislative game, legislators are debating taxes.  Sandoval included spending $6.1 billion in his 2011-2013 general fund budget. Democrats want to spend about $7 billion, with $626 million coming from extending taxes set to expire June 30 and the rest from new taxes on business and services like haircuts, attorneys and brothels.

“Bottom line is: there are taxes being paid that if continued would cover this [$100 million],” said Horsford.

Legislative committees also earlier supported a 4.8 percent salary cut to university employees, adding between $7.5 and $10 million in extra spending because the governor recommended a 5 percent cut.

“The reality is, the work is not done because we still need to get folks to pay for it,” Horsford said.

Legislators Texting, Tweeting And Typing Has Some Crying Foul

By Andrew Doughman | 7:11 pm April 1st, 2011

RENO – Behind the laptop, beside the cell phone and next to the iPad tablet, somewhere, is a legislator.

“I ask you to please stop looking at your phones,” said Crystal Jackson, a UNR student. “Stop looking as if you’re bored.”

She made the remarks after legislators were more than two hours into listening to students and faculty testify about proposed higher-education cuts at the University of Nevada, Reno on Thursday.

Legislators often multi-task, perusing emails and e-documents while listening to testimony.

But Jackson raises important points: how much time do representatives of the public owe the public, and how acceptable is it to use technology when members of the public are testifying?

“It seems like our stories are falling on deaf ears,” said Charlie Jose, president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada, who testified earlier at UNR.

Often, legislators punch away at their keyboards as their committees listen to public testimony. Sometimes, only the chairperson of the committee speaks to members of the public.

Nevada Sens. Ruben Kihuen, left, and Mo Denis, both D-Las Vegas, look at an electronic device at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on April 1, 2011. Photo by Cathleen Allison

Still, nobody refutes the importance of public testimony, and some want to strengthen it.

Today, lobbyist George Flint testified about a bill from Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas. The bill would allow the public equal time to testify for and against a bill.

“The basic concept of our entire government is for everybody to be heard,” Flint said.

Legislators, however, do not have time to hear from everybody. The 120-day legislative session, a complex budget and a glut of bills means legislators are counting every second.

The dissatisfied students may also be bumping into what some have called the Carson City bubble, inside of which a brigade of lobbyists exert influence at the expense of those not physically in the Legislature.

“Probably the smartest thing the UNR students could do is hire a lobbyist,” said Flint, who has been a lobbyist for 49 years. “The way you get things done over here is to hire professionals who have the ear of these people [legislators].”

Flint is a lobbyist for a polarizing industry: Reno-area wedding chapels and some legal brothels. He knows as well as anyone that some lawmakers are set in their views. Three minutes or three hours of public testimony will not change their minds.

Still, it is important for the public to have a chance to have its say.

“If you’re going to walk out feeling like you’ve lost, you should walk out knowing you had enough time to make your case,” Ohrenschall said.

Nonetheless, technology has invaded committee rooms to the extent that people making their case cannot know if lawmakers are actually listening.

Assembly Minority leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said that this is the “price we pay” for integrating more technology into the legislative process.

For the first time this year, nearly all legislative documents are on a computer system. So when legislators are looking at their computers, they could be referencing relevant documents.

Orhenschall said that he gets text messages from his assistant, who tells him another committee is waiting for him to testify on a bill.

Some members of the Senate and Assembly also use Twitter and consistently Tweet colorful quotes as people testify.

So for better or worse, legislators seem to be connected to their laptops, iPads and cell phones.

“You know how Darth Vader had become more machine than man?” Ohrenschall said.




Record-Breaking Numbers Of Students Rally Against Budget Cuts At Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 5:08 pm March 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Capitol had a new vibe this morning: less gray hair, more noise.

In what some say was the largest student protest ever held at the Legislature, more than 1,000 students thronged the cold, snow-swept capitol grounds to protest Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $162 million proposed cuts to higher education.

So what motivates record-breaking numbers of students representing all of Nevada’s universities and community colleges to swarm the state house?

Students repeatedly said they are “fed up” with budget cuts.

They are angry enough that 800 of them rode in a 15-bus, overnight convoy from Las Vegas to Carson City to tell legislators and the governor how upset they are. Hundreds of others bused in from across the state.

Hundreds of college and university students swarmed the Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, March 21, 2011, during a rally protesting proposed budget cuts to higher education. Photo by Cathleen Allison

Here is what is troubling them: Universities could raise tuition 10 – 15 percent, lay off staff and faculty, eliminate programs and reduce course offerings to absorb Sandoval’s cuts.

News like that brought so many people to the people’s house that one student organizer called the scene “controlled chaos.”

At the Legislature, students packed the Assembly and Senate chambers, chanted “hey, hey, ho, ho, budget cuts have got to go” in the foyer, swarmed up and down stairs and crowded the hallways.

They thronged inside the Capitol building to demand an audience with the governor only to discover the governor was in a meeting. Later that afternoon, Sandoval shook hands and met with students.

One journalist Tweeted that a lobbyist grumbled about “disruptive” students. But students wanted to be heard.

“We’re almost being kicked when we’re down,” said Belen Figueroa, a University of Nevada, Reno freshman. “It hurts. When you’re kicked enough, you’re going to fight back, and this is people fighting back.”

Amelia Walsh, a 21-year-old junior at UNR, sat next to her 18-year-old friend Connie Anderson on a charter bus bound for Carson City. The two said they feared their institution was heading down the tubes.

“I was born here and my family is here, but if there’s nothing going for Nevada, why would I stay?” Walsh asked.

Anderson said she has watched Nevada’s leaders chop away at the budget since she was 13-years-old. As she progressed through high school, UNR became more expensive while offering fewer programs and services.

With that history and with Sandoval’s proposed cuts framing the debate, she did not hold out much hope.

“Even though this is the proposed plan, it’s basically the plan,” she said.

Walsh had a similar outlook. She said Nevada’s leaders do “whatever they want.”

“We’ve had rallies before,” she said. “We’ve had buses go down before. It’s important to show that we do care but I don’t know how much good it will do, unfortunately.”

Still, it was important enough for Walsh to board a Carson-bound bus on the first Monday after Spring break. This in an era of supposed youth apathy and ambivalence toward government.

Has something changed?

“This year the fear has been more tangible than I’ve ever seen it,” said Sebring Frehner, president of Nevada State College’s student government. “This year I’ve actually seen school officials trying to control their shaking when they’re being told about these cuts.”

Many more students seem to be realizing the budget cuts affect them personally.

Walsh said that she’s under financial strain. She receives the Millennium Scholarship and her parents chip in, but she also spent Spring break working at Home Depot, where she works between 32 and 40 hours per week.

Students told stories like Walsh’s to legislators during a morning committee hearing. But Figueroa, who was sitting in the audience, was not impressed. She said she was even a little bit offended when two legislators seemed to be swapping jokes during student testimony.

“I don’t think disappointed is the right word, but I feel hesitant of the success of the rally,” she said. “…It really wasn’t getting through to them.”

That does not mean students are down and out.

“This single day will absolutely not bring about change,” Freshner said. “However, this isn’t the end of what we’re doing. This is the beginning.”



Thousands Expected Today For Huge Rally For Revenue At Legislature

By Andrew Doughman | 12:01 am March 21st, 2011

CARSON CITY – In what could be the largest rally ever held at the Legislature, more than 1,000 students, parents, teachers and activists are expected today to protest education budget cuts.

Hundreds from Las Vegas have hopped aboard a convoy of buses to join their northern counterparts in making a call for more revenue – read: tax increases – to bridge Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $160 million cuts to the higher education budget.

Organizers say they hope their rally will spark a shift in the debate at the Legislature, where lawmakers have yet to advance any public plans for new revenue.

“I hope these politicians will change their tone,” said Michael Flores, an organizer for Progress Now Nevada. “In Carson, there’s a different atmosphere. They beat around the bush a lot …people feel that, you know what, we have got to get on the ball with this.”

Casey Stiteler, who coordinates the UNR student body’s governmental affairs said the key message is mitigating both cuts and tuition increases.

“We understand very much that a number of important, vital services are being cut as well, but we want to make sure our concerns are being taken in account as these decisions are being made,” Stiteler said.

University presidents have already drafted tentative plans for tuition increases between 10 and 15 percent. They may use a combination of tuition increases, faculty and staff pay cuts, program cuts and reduced course offerings to balance their budgets.

Students have said before that this plan is unacceptable. If their numbers alone do not send that message, then at the very least the UNR pep band playing outside the Legislature should grab some ears.

And it is not just students from universities who are showing up.

Leo Murrieta of the Nevada Youth Coalition has recruited about 150 high school students. He has talked to hundreds of parents and obtained excused absences from school so that students can get a real-life civics lesson.

“The overall response was this is more important, this is something my kid should partake in,” said Murrieta, who has spent most of his recent evenings organizing the trip.

Rally Has Been Months In The Making

Sara Sinnett, a 19-year-old UNR student, texts students Sunday afternoon to remind them about the March 21 rally at the Legislature, which is expected to draw thousands.

All of these groups – K-12, higher education and progressive organizations – have not exactly had problems recruiting for the rally.

People are fed up.

Previous legislative town hall events have been packed with Nevadans upset about the governor’s proposed cuts.

So how, exactly, does that anger translate into action?

Student and community leaders have been planning the rally since January. They have made phone calls, spoke in classrooms and held events to spread the word. They even allotted student fees to rent buses; UNLV used $15,000 to rent buses for the overnight haul from Las Vegas to Carson City, an expense the UNLV College Republicans have called unnecessary and “wasteful.”

Sara Sinnett, a 19-year-old psychology major at the University of Nevada, Reno, spent hours Sunday afternoon sending reminders to students to get on the Carson City-bound buses come Monday morning.

While she has spent countless hours phone banking and speaking in front of her classes about the March 21 event, she said the old shoe-and-leather approach has not been the most effective.

“The best way we’ve found out to do this is Facebook,” she said. “We’ve also done things like text message campaigns.”

In Las Vegas, Flores has prepped for the rally for weeks. Much of his work has been through text messages and Facebook.

“A lot of people don’t pick up the newspaper anymore, so you put that [news story] on Facebook and that’s how people get fired up about this,” he said.

Whatever the medium, the message got out. But it did not happen overnight.

How much time does it take to coordinate hundreds of people statewide?

“Well, I don’t sleep anymore,” Flores said.








Senate Hears Bill That Would Allow Guns On College Campuses

By Andrew Doughman | 12:13 pm March 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – When the Amanda Collins testified before a Senate committee, she recounted an emotional story of her brutal assault at University of Nevada, Reno campus.

Collins said she was defenseless when serial rapist and convicted murderer James Biela attacked her in a UNR parking garage.

She was testifying in support of a bill from Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, that would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms onto Nevada’s college and university campuses.

Collins had a permit to carry a concealed firearm, but had left it at home knowing that it was illegal to carry her weapon onto campus.

“The unanswered question of my life is and will remain to be, ‘what would have changed if I was carrying my weapon that night?’” she said.

Earlier this summer it took a Nevada jury just six hours to convict Biela of the rape and murder of Brianna Denison. Biela was also found guilty of three other felony charges, including the rape of a Collins in October 2007 and the rape and kidnapping of another woman a few months later.

In her testimony this morning, Collins raised a question that guided the several hours of testimony that followed: “what if?”

Gun advocates, firearms safety businesses and students said people must pass rigorous requirements to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon; they know the law and would not misuse their firearms. If firearms are allowed on campus, people on campus would be more safe, they said.

“It’s important to know that law-abiding citizens are just that: law abiding,” Lee said.

Furthermore, the senator said, the current ban creates an “arbitrary line” between on-campus and off-campus that oftentimes is no more different than one side of the street from the other.

Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, teaches night classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He said that his students sometimes do not feel safe leaving his class.

“They are very cognizant of the fact that there are places around the campus that are not the safest,” he said.

Hammond said would feel safer if trained permit carriers were in his classes.

Hours of testimony from individuals provided the committee with a series of situations. If “bad guys” were to attempt violent acts on campuses, the ability to carry a firearm on campuses would allow people to protect themselves.

“To single out college students and staff and leave them more vulnerable than the rest of the population just seems unfair,” said Scott Durward, a firearms trainer for Blackbird Tactical Training in Reno.

Adam Garcia, police chief at UNR, said that campuses are safer than the surrounding community. But in regards to Collins, who was still in the room when Garcia testified, he said “we failed miserably.”

Garcia and other representatives from police departments throughout Nevada opposed the bill, saying it would make campuses less safe if guns were to be allowed. He said raucous sporting events involving alcohol and firearms could pose a security threat.

“These events could become killing fields,” Garcia said.

Frank Adams, representing the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, said that the bill poses “grave concerns.” If guns were to be allowed on campuses, he asked the committee what procedures police would follow in terms of storing guns in dormitories and managing guns at sports events.

He also said that Nevada’s Board of Regents generally govern their own affairs. This bill would be unusual because it instructed the board to act a certain way.

“Many private businesses elect to restrict any weapons, concealed or not,” Adams said.

Jim Richardson of the Nevada Faculty Alliance said that the bill would mandate that universities allow people with permits to carry their guns on campus while not changing laws governing allowing firearms in the Legislature, airports and the other government buildings.

After three hours of testimony, Lee held the bill for further discussion.









Rape Victim to Testify on Campus Carry Law

By Elizabeth Crum | 11:05 pm March 17th, 2011

LAS VEGAS – The ability to carry a firearm on Nevada’s college campuses could have prevented her brutal rape, says a victim who will testify before the Senate Government Affairs Committee tomorrow in Carson City.

Reno resident Amanda Collins will tell her story to legislators who will be weighing the merits of Senate Bill 231, the “campus carry” law proposed by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas. If passed, the legislation would lift prohibitions on carrying firearms on Nevada college campuses.

Soft spoken and small in stature, Amanda Collins said she was defenseless when serial rapist and convicted murderer James Biela attacked her in a University of Nevada Reno parking garage.

Though she was a licensed gun owner with a concealed weapons permit, Collins was unarmed when Biela assaulted her less than 300 yards from a campus police office.

Earlier this summer it took a Nevada jury just six hours to convict James Biela of the rape and murder of Brianna Denison. Biela was also found guilty of three other felony charges, including the rape of a Collins in October 2007 and the rape and kidnapping of another woman a few months later.

Recounting details from the night of her attack in an interview this week, Collins said she left her classroom with a group of students at approximately 10 p.m. The students walked to a nearby parking garage and all but Collins, who had parked on the ground floor, ascended the stairs.

Collins said as she approached her own automobile, Biela grabbed her from behind and pulled her to the ground. He then put a pistol to her forehead and told her not to say anything as he clicked off the safety.

Collins stayed silent and was then raped at gunpoint, she said.

Collins said she would have been carrying her firearm and would have defended herself that night had campus rules permitted it.

“I know at some point during my attack I could have stopped it,” said Collins. “Had I been able to do so, two other rapes would have been prevented and a life could have been saved.”

Collins said she later submitted a request to the president of the university to be permitted to carry a concealed weapon on campus. The request was granted under a requirement of nondisclosure.

“Had SB 231 been the current law, my family and myself would have been saved a lot of torment,” said Collins.

“Because of the fact that I was rendered defenseless, this man was allowed to be at large and to continue to rape other women in the community, and consequently he murdered a young woman as well,” added Collins.

Gregory Brown, a history professor at UNLV, this week argued against the campus carry legislation on the UNLV Faculty Alliance website, saying the measure would “almost certainly” increase the likelihood of violent shootings on campuses.

Pointing to laws and violent incidents in other states as well as studies concluding that more guns lead to more violence on campus, Brown argued the legislation is unnecessary because data shows crime incidents are less frequent on campus than in surrounding neighborhoods. Brown said that fact along with others will be presented by Public Safety directors from NSHE campuses at Friday’s hearing.

Brown also said the law would “further damage the credibility of our already battered System of Higher Education” and that there was “no need, and much danger, inherent” in the bill.

Collins disagrees.

“If the university is going to deny individuals the right to participate in their own defense by carrying on campus, then they then assume the responsibility for ensuring the safety of every individual that steps onto that campus,” said Collins.

“And I know from my experience and from my knowledge that they are failing miserably despite their best efforts,” she said.

Collins acknowledged that lighting has been improved and more call boxes have been installed around the UNR campus and in parking garages since her attack, but she called the measures “inadequate.” She called for “a serious evaluation and discussion” about how realistic it is for universities to ensure the safety of students.

“A call box directly above my head, potentially, while I was being straddled to the ground by James Biela would not have helped me,” said Collins.

“The one equalizing factor when you’re attacked by someone much larger than you is a firearm, and that’s just the reality of it,” said Collins, who has obtained formal self-defense training in the past.

“I think that people lose sight of the fact that the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is with a good person with a gun,” said Collins.

“That is why when police respond to a call that says ‘shots fired,’ they bring their guns,” said Collins. “And while first responders are necessary, and they are good, immediate responders are better.”

Carrie Herbertson, a representative of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, said Collins’ story is a compelling argument in favor of the campus carry law, and that the law as it exists makes little sense because concealed carry weapons permit holders are subject to the same standards on campus as off campus.

“What makes individuals with firearms on a campus any less or any more dangerous than off campus?” asked Herbertson.

Herbertson said concealed weapons permit holders are trained in police protocol including immediately identifying themselves and putting down their firearm when first responders arrive on a crime scene. She contends that allowing properly licensed firearms owners to carry their weapons on campus would reduce, not increase violent crimes at colleges.

“We are talking about trained, law abiding permit holders who are subject to the same standards off campus as they would be on campus,” said Herbertson.

Churchill County Sheriff Benjamin Trotter recently wrote Herbertson a letter in support of the legislation.

Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick, familiar with Collins case, will also submit a letter in support of the legislation to the Committee this week.

Audio clips:

Reno resident Amanda Collins says she could have stopped her attack with a weapon:

031711Collins1 :19 have been saved.”

Collins says if SB231 had been law, she would have been saved a lot of torment:

031711Collins2 :09 lot of torment.”

Collins says rendering her defenseless did not protect her from violent crime:

031711Collins3 :24 woman as well.”

Collins says if university students can’t carry weapons, university is responsible for safety:

031711Collins4 :25 their best efforts.”

Collins says an emergency call box would not have helped her:

031711Collins5 :11 have helped me.”

Collins says a good person with a gun can keep a crime from happening:

031711Collins6 :13 with a gun.”



Some Say Democrats’ Jobs Bill “Not A Jobs Bill”

By Andrew Doughman | 10:17 am March 7th, 2011

RENO – When the bottom fell out of the construction industry, some lucky ones kept working.

CC Myers, a California company, has benefited from a portion of a $393 million contract to extend Interstate 580 between Reno and Carson City. They are building the 120-foot-tall bridge spanning Galena Creek.

Work there has continued apace as vehicles zooming through the valley below have increasingly carried unemployed Nevadans.

So while Nevada continues to have the nation’s highest unemployment rate, Nevada taxpayers are paying a California company to build a bridge in Nevada.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, wants to change that. She has introduced a bill that Democrats have labeled “Nevada Jobs First,” a jobs bill Democrats wanted to roll out within the first 30 days of the legislative session to prove they were no-nonsense about putting Nevadans back to work.

The bill would make companies bidding on state construction contracts employ at least 50 percent Nevadans and use vehicles and materials from Nevada, ostensibly bolstering the numbers of Nevadans in the ranks at construction sites.

But while CC Myers may be a Californian company, that does not mean they are employing Californians.

The company contends that more than 80 percent of the workers building the Galena Creek bridge are Nevadan.

CC Myers is not the only company employing Nevadans in numbers well above the threshold Smith’s bill sets.

Sundt Construction of Arizona is in the finals months of constructing a $30 million health sciences building at the University of Nevada, Reno

Tim Krump, the project’s manager, said 86 percent of the subcontracted firms working at the construction site are Nevadan and 100 percent of the vehicles used at the site are registered in-state.

The work site at UNR abounds with logos. A Sparks electric company has a trailer just beyond a fence erected by a Minden company. An Incline Glass machine sits idle next to a dumpster from a Sparks company. Even the portable toilets next to the Sundt offices are emblazoned with the logo of a Reno company.

Great numbers of out-of-state companies do not seem to be snatching Nevadan’s taxpayer dollars through state-funded public works projects.

The Nevada Department of Transportation, a major source of the state’s construction work, has awarded just a handful of contracts to out-of-state contractors within the past few years, said Scott Magruder, NDOT spokesman.

He said companies who bid low to secure a contract often have a low profit margin. They cannot afford to bring in many out-of-state workers.

“It is more cost-effective to use local laborers or professionals just because it can be very costly to mobilize equipment and personnel,” Magruder said.

Smith said that she has heard testimony from people who have driven by construction sites where all the vehicles bore license plates from other states.

But Gus Nunez at the Nevada State Public Works board also said that very few projects now go to out-of-state contractors.

He said more out-of-state workers may have come to Nevada during the boom days prior to 2007.

To create the housing bubble, developers had beckoned workers to come to Nevada to build, build, build.

But these days, more than 91,000 construction workers in Nevada are out of work.

At VanWoert Bigotti Architects, Brad VanWoert said he has had to reduce his workforce by 50 percent during the past two years.

His firm has done many public works projects in the past.

These days, the firm does see some competition from out of state. With the industry starving, anybody jumps at a fine-looking contract.

The low-bid environment, though, would force any out-of-state firm to hire Nevadans to save money, he said.

“This is not a big deal,” he said of Smith’s bill. “It’s a nice statement … it is not a jobs bill. For us to design for a job, there has to be a job.”

The problem is, there are not many jobs. Nunez said the state public works board is planing for less than $50 million in new construction projects during the next biennium. That’s down from $810 million during 2007 and $545 million this year.

The Nevada Department of Transportation had $594 million apportioned for construction during 2009, but that money was not all for new projects. The Interstate 580 expansion alone ate $100 million of that.

The federal stimulus is also winding down, and Congress seems to have no appetite for new spending.

“The real impact of the bill depends on public agencies to come up with projects to build,” Krump said.

The bill would affect the bidding process for projects going out to bid now. But that would also not immediately create construction jobs.

VanWoert said design firms would have to draw up the plans for projects before construction workers were employed.

Bill would provide funding for construction jobs

Another Smith bill would enable school districts to use money for construction that they normally keep in reserve to pay debt. She has said it would create jobs renovating schools and create a better learning environment for school children who all too often have to try to learn in old, decrepit classrooms.

But if the plan sounds familiar, that is because Gov. Brian Sandoval is also counting on the money in his budget. Sandoval would punch a hole in his own budget by signing Smith’s bill into law.

Smith’s bidding preference bill is stalled in the Senate. The bill has support from those who see a future benefit from the proposal if out-of-state workers ever swarm back to Nevada.

Krump also said that the bill would help solidify in statute what companies like his already do.

But for now, changing the rules for a bidding preference does not seem to be a way to create many jobs.

“There’s no work,” VanWoert said.

Higher Education Presidents and Regents Criticize Budget Cuts

By Andrew Doughman | 6:53 pm February 3rd, 2011

LAS VEGAS – The presidents of Nevada’s colleges and universities said the governor’s budget cuts would put their institutions on a starvation diet.

They argued that past budget cuts severely slimmed their institutions, meaning additional funding reductions would threaten their core academic mission.

The Board of Regents, which governs the Nevada System of Higher Education, met in Las Vegas with the presidents today to discuss Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget. That budget cuts higher education by 17.7 percent or $162 million.

The presidents said again and again that they will have to charge students more in tuition and fees, eliminate degree programs, curtail course offerings, restrict access and fire professors and staff.

Neal Smatresk, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said that he sees two paths forward given the magnitude of the cuts:

“Ask yourself: Does UNLV or UNR [University of Nevada, Reno] become a degree mill and dramatically reduce quality or do we become very small, very expensive and very restrictive?”

The question of access, however, is more severe at community colleges. Access is supposed to be one of the primary reasons community colleges exist.

Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada, repeated to the regents a story he also told to the Legislature: this past fall, CSN had to turn away more than 5,000 students because they didn’t have room for them.

He said that the college would continue restricting access.

“You would see a major change in the complexion of CSN with these staggering cuts,” he said.

Presidents also said that they’re losing key faculty, especially at research institutions like UNR, UNLV and the Desert Research Institute. Those faculty members are lured away by more competitive offers.

“The faculty are leaving because they’re worried about the future,” said Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute.

He said that when the state is “chopping off the limbs” of the budget, his top professors become increasingly antsy about their job security.

Those are the people, he said, who the state pays $75,000 in salary and, in return, bring in tens of millions of dollars to the state in research grants.

The presidents repeatedly said that the governor’s 5 percent salary cut and assumed tuition increases of about 10 to 12 percent annually would still leave their institutions with gaping budget holes.

Putting forth solutions, Regents hopped between calling for more revenue to mitigate the cuts and admonishing the presidents to find further efficiencies.

It’s a dance they’ll have to master as they try to sell higher education to the Legislature during the upcoming session. Politically, legislators may be unwilling to levy a new tax to support higher education if the institutions cannot take demonstrable steps to stretch every dollar they have.

Although the presidents and regents collectively had little praise for the governor, they said they appreciate Sandoval’s plan to let the universities retain more of their tuition dollars as well as allow them to shift funds around their institutions.

Along with the governor’s proposed 5 percent salary reductions, Sandoval has supported differentiated tuition. In short, that means some students would pay more for certain degree programs. It means paying more for an engineering degree than an English degree since an engineer is likely to make more money in the future.

The regents also asked Chancellor Dan Klaich, who oversees the state’s college and universities, to coordinate tactical program closures. That way UNR and UNLV would not offer duplicate degree programs.

One source of revenue that won’t be available is the federal stimulus dollars that had helped buoy the higher education budget. The money is almost gone, and there’s no round two.

Tax increases are also off the table, for now. Sandoval has vowed to veto any bill with a tax increase, and legislators have thus far offered no tax plans.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 7 for their 120-day session.

Amid Budget Cuts Debate, University Students Organizing

By Andrew Doughman | 5:33 pm January 27th, 2011

RENO – He looked out into the audience at the University of Nevada, Reno and said: “if lawmakers want to invest in something, we want to make sure they invest in us.”

Behind him, a Powerpoint presentation displayed tactics for talking to lawmakers about higher education budget cuts.

He is Casey Stiteler, the UNR student directing the newly-created student government Department of Legislative Affairs. After years of budget cuts, he and dozens of other students have coalesced into something of a self-advocacy group.

But their protests won’t be of their parents’ variety. Gone are the marches and megaphones.

These students speak of biennial budgets and pepper their talk with names of state Senators and Assembly members. They’re very worried about the state’s Tobacco Settlement money, which is the pot of money from which many of them draw benefits in the form of Millennium Scholarships.

They’re also very upset that Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget includes a $162 million reduction in state support to higher education.

Stiteler and ASUN Senator Jonathan Moore briefed about 40 students Wednesday night about the state of higher education before delving into what might be called a strategy talk.

They shared talking points and reviewed budget figures. A sheet went around the room onto which students wrote their e-mails so they could receive legislative updates from Stiteler.

Slowly, a strategy developed. Students said they need to show legislators the impact of the cuts on their chances for success. They’ll also need to convince legislators that the system can’t take much more strain.

Lastly and perhaps surprisingly, Stiteler and others in the room seemed resigned to higher tuition and fees. Rather than fight a reasonable increase that could keep the lights on, they called for more control.

We need to have a promise from Carson City that we get to keep that money on campus and let it have a direct impact on education,” Stiteler said. “There are some moves we can try to make to see our dollars work for us.”

The first move will be this Saturday. Students plan to arrive by the busload at a Reno town hall meeting to discuss budget cuts.

We can have a big impact,” Stiteler explained. “One of the lawmakers who is going to be there is Debbie Smith, and she is the chair of Ways and Means, which is kind of the money committee.”

Ben Pelt, a 22-year-old UNR student, said he’s going to shift around his work schedule to be at the Saturday hearing.

Having educated people in the economy is going to be our future,” he said. “It depends on people going through college and getting an education.”

In such a budget-conscious Legislature, the students plan to appeal to the pocketbook.

Today, Dan Klaich, the chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, spoke before a legislative committee reviewing the governor’s proposed higher education budget. During his testimony, he called students “human capital” and universities “critical places of workforce development.”

Noting that the University of Reno had already shuttered services like the career center and eliminated whole majors, the students plan to say that further reductions could throw a wrench right into the state’s biggest economic engine.

But they aren’t naïve either.

When it does come time to cut, there’s very few things to choose from,” Stiteler said. “If anyone is going to be chosen to shoulder the burden … a lot of people come to higher education.”

So what’s the answer?

Like many legislators, they don’t know quite yet.

Part of the game, though, is just showing up.

If we all band together there’s a very good chance that we’ll have an effect on this,” Stiteler said.

UNR Joins Nationwide College Coalition To Promote Student Volunteerism

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 2:21 pm December 1st, 2010

University of Nevada, Reno President Milt Glick has signed the “Campus Compact,” joining a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents who have committed their campuses to encouraging service learning and civic engagement.

“It’s great to be a 4.0 student, but if you’re not taking your talents and making them useful, it doesn’t mean much,” said Tamara Valentine, director of the University’s Honors Program, who has established a student Honors Service Council that will lead the charge in encouraging student participation in service-learning and volunteer activities.

“When students volunteer and realize we’re part of the community and they’re part of something bigger, that’s very powerful,” she said.

More than 100 honors students have already paired up with local nonprofit organizations and completed some volunteer work this semester.

Some of the groups and organizations students have volunteered with so far include the SPCA, Catholic Charities, the Kiwanis and the Northern Nevada Immunization Coalition.

“The kids are great – it’s a partnership we hope grows even more,” said Wes Hoskins, forest project coordinator for Friends of Nevada Wilderness. “Phillip was an awesome kid to be around and a really hard worker. He seems to have a great future ahead of him.”

Phillip Breslow, a freshman at the University, volunteered for the organization one weekend this fall, doing trail maintenance in central Nevada.

“I had a fantastic time with them,” Breslow said. “I wanted an opportunity to get out there and give something back because I really enjoy hiking in my free time. I also really enjoyed being with their other volunteers. It was nice being around people who weren’t just doing stuff for personal gain. The feeling you get from volunteering – it’s unreal. Nothing compares to it.”

Nevada currently ranks 50th among the 50 states and Washington DC for volunteering. Nevada Volunteers, an organization dedicated to strengthening Nevada through AmeriCorps and volunteerism, helped the University secure an AmeriCorps VISTA for one year, to help jumpstart the campus’ increased commitment to volunteerism. They also paid for the first year of membership to the Campus Compact with congressionally directed funding.

“As a land-grant institution, this really fits our mission,” Valentine said. “We were very grateful for the help from Nevada Volunteers and AmeriCorps.”

By joining the Campus Compact, and the affiliated Washington Campus Compact, the university will also be able to award 10 students who complete 300 hours of service over one year an education award of about $1,100. The program is called Students in Service and is funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The University is also encouraging faculty to incorporate service-learning opportunities more into their coursework and will sponsor a Webcast for faculty at 10 a.m., Dec. 8 with information on how to creatively make service opportunities part of a meaningful learning experience.

Service learning is not completely new to campus. Many instructors are already including service learning as part of their coursework. For example, about 60 advanced students of Richard Mason, associate professor of accounting and civic engagement in the College of Business, volunteered more than 700 hours this spring to help lower- to middle-income wage earners get their taxes filed.

“It’s a win-win for the students and the people they’re helping,” he says. “Service learning is a whole different way of educating them.”

Chilean School Voucher Program Increased High School Graduation Rates, New Study Concludes

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 3:19 pm June 28th, 2010

CARSON CITY – A major study of a school voucher program operating in the country of Chile for the past 29 years has found both an increase in high school graduation rates and an increase in the number of students going on to college.

A preliminary draft of the lengthy study, performed by researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chile, was released today.

Along with other school decentralization efforts, education reforms implemented in 1981 included making Chile the only country in the world to have a nationwide school voucher program.

The study looked at students who began school in the early 1970s all the way up through students who began school in the early ‘90s. It shows that the reforms increased high school graduation rates by 3.6 percent and increased college-going rates by 3.1 percent.

The reforms also increased the rate of those completing at least two years of college by 2.6 percent and the rate of those completing at least four years of college by 1.8 percent.

Sankar Mukhopadhyay, assistant professor of economics at UNR and a co-author of the study, said that while there have been quite a few studies on the possible effects of school vouchers on grades and test scores, there has been very little research conducted on the possible effects of school vouchers on the level of education attained by students, or on employment and earnings.

“I think this study provides very interesting, new information for those considering school vouchers,” Mukhopadhyay said. “I think these results will surprise some people; the results actually surprised us.”

Mukhopadhyay and the research team drew their information from nearly 4,000 people, ranging in ages from 6 to 45.

The study also found that the voucher program significantly increased the demand for private subsidized schools and decreased the demand for both public and nonsubsidized private schools.

In addition, although opponents of school voucher programs have long theorized that vouchers would mostly benefit the rich, this study showed that individuals from poor and non-poor backgrounds in Chile, on average, experienced similar educational attainment gains under the voucher program. There was also a modest reduction in earnings inequity once the voucher reforms were enacted. Overall however, the reforms did not lead to increased overall average earnings.

The reforms reduced the number of people ages 16 to 25 in the workforce by about 2 percent because more people were staying in school longer, Mukhopadhyay said.

“So the earnings benefits of having greater educational attainment were at least partly offset by the delay in entering the workforce.”

Ray Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association and member of an education reform task force created by Gov. Jim Gibbons, said he is glad to see the analysis but questions whether the results can be attributed solely to the voucher school program. The country implemented a number of reforms at the same time, he said.

“It is interesting that someone has actually taken a look at it,” Bacon said. “In a controlled environment you want to change one thing at a time to see if it had any effect or not.”

But the study contains good data and will no doubt provoke a lot of discussion on the value of a voucher school program, he said. One encouraging finding is that the education reforms in Chile “leveled the playing field” among the different socioeconomic classes, Bacon said.

The study will be published in its entirety in the inaugural issue of a new journal published by the Econometric Society, Quantitative Economics, in August. The co-authors of the study are Mukhopadhyay; David Bravo, economics professor at the University of Chile; and Petra Todd, economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

audio clip:

Ray Bacon comment on the voucher study:

062830Bacon :25 people don’t expect.”