Friday, Aug. 8, 2008 | 11:08 p.m.
Mary Beth Scow's name will be on the ballot for District A (see map)in Tuesday's primary race for the Clark County School Board. But there's no way she can win another four-year term — the 12-year veteran school board chairman was recently term-limited out by a ruling of the Nevada Supreme Court.
It was too late to take her name off the ballots because they had already been printed. So following her failed legal challenge and reluctant withdrawal from the race, Scow eventually threw her support behind the last remaining woman on the District A ballot.
“I interviewed all three candidates… and I am going to endorse Deanna Wright,” Scow said. “I felt Deanna had the kids more at heart. I think that … her decisions would be made in the best interests of the kids.”
Wright is a 37-year-old homemaker who has two children in Clark County schools. She entered the race because she is “concerned about the education in Clark County from (kindergarten) all the way through high school” and believes, if elected, she will bring “new ideas, some fresh perspective, and some fresh blood, so to speak.”
Her challengers are current associate superintendent of the county’s Education Services division, Edward Goldman, and 55-year-old tax consultant Steve Bergstrom. A fourth candidate, Gordon Hale, withdrew from the race.
After 28 years with Clark County School District, Goldman feels he has the necessary “knowledge, experience and awareness” to serve as trustee. Bergstrom, meanwhile, thinks his no-nonsense approach, paired with his enthusiasm and emphasis on engaging students, teachers, and the community make him the right person for the job. “Teachers right now are teaching their students how to pass tests instead of about how to learn about a subject,” he alleges. “We need to change that.”
All three hopefuls said wasteful spending on support staff, whether it be with middle-management, maintenance, or elsewhere, need to be addressed in order to find part of the $136-million in cuts the board must make to the district’s $1.2-billion operating budget.
Wright believes cuts will have to be made to after-school programs and fees for supplemental subjects such as band and choir will have to be added or, in some cases, raised. “I really want those things to be accessible to everybody, but the reality is that if the budget continues to be cut, and we don’t want to cut (core subject areas), the peripheral things are the things that will go first,” she says.
Goldman says increasing class sizes would be a last resort and instead thinks block scheduling, which allows high school students to take 32 classes instead of the standard 24, should be put on the chopping block. He says, “(block scheduling is) nice, but we can’t afford that when we’re being asked to make these kinds of cuts.”
Bergstrom, on the other hand, is advocating for expanded course selection in order to reengage students.
“We are losing the enthusiasm of the students and the teachers,” he says. The father of seven would like to improve access to magnet programs, like the one at Rancho High School that inspired one of his children, to rekindle education fires across the system.
He believes students should be able to attend any school they want to, irrespective of where they live. “I want to expand the opportunity for choice in education,” he says.
He’s advocating for choice in respect to both course selection and schools, and believes vouchers should be available for private schools, as well. “Parents should be able to make wise choices,” he says.
Goldman says he would be willing to look at opening up a voucher program that would allow parents to send their children to whatever private school they chose. “I’m open to discussion about it, it does not frighten me,” he said.
Wright, however, is very much opposed to the idea. “I don’t think we need to take more funding away from our public education and put in it private schools. … the ones left behind will suffer.”
Bergstrom believes expanded course selection will help improve the district’s high school drop-out rate, which is currently one of the worst in the country.
The embarrassing statistic is something Wright and Goldman both want to address.
“I’m very concerned about drop-out rates at high schools,” Wright says. “I think that it’s imperative that kids … get a high school diploma.”
Goldman is looking for a structured teaching approach to bring consistency to the highly transient school district. Standardized textbooks also factor into the 51-year-old’s plans and he would also like to improve teacher morale, as well. “We need to work at making this a place where they want to stay,” he says, noting the district loses about 5000 of its 18,000 teachers every year.
None of the candidates are eager to split the division into smaller divisions or sub-divisions, but none of them strongly oppose the idea, either.
“It’s not my number one priority,… but I’m not opposed to the option,” Bergstrom says.
Goldman holds the strongest position on the subject by far.
“I believe that the district is too large,” he says, “(and) I do support the idea of a Henderson school district.”
“If (the school division) is broken up, I believe it should be done on a municipal boundary basis and it should be permissive,” he says. “Cities within the county should be allowed to form their own districts.”
Wright, on the other hand, things a north-south split would be more appropriate: “What we need to do is break what we have now … down the middle, through the center of Las Vegas and have two superintendents.” She calls her idea a “division within a division” approach.
Still, Wright thinks it would be “a logisitical nightmare” and wonders how schools, land, and equipment like busses would be divided. “Until we have some of those vital questions answered … I don’t think that we can realistically look at breaking up the district,” she says.
Splitting or subdividing the Clark County School District would require state legislation and a possible local referendum.
This is the first time Wright has sought public office. Meanwhile, Goldman unsuccessfully ran against John Hawk in the 2000 race for state board of education, and Bergstrom lost his 2002 bid for Constable of North Las Vegas to Herb Brown.