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August 4, 2015

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Larry Mason reflects on his tenure on School Board

Longtime School Board member saw district double in size

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Christopher DeVargas

Larry Mason

One of the best days of his life, Larry Mason says, was his first day on the Clark County School Board. So was his last, Dec. 31.

The first Hispanic board member, Mason was twice elected board president, saw enrollment double to 300,000 students and oversaw the rise of the district’s budget to $2 billion.

But Mason, 64, also saw the district’s troubles, including bottom-of-the-heap graduation rates and his personal health problems, including leukemia, worsen, then stabilize.

Mason, a Democrat and ally of Harry Reid, nonetheless sees merit in some of the conservative critique urging education reform, especially teacher accountability.

He almost voted against Dwight Jones, the new superintendent and a former education commissioner in Colorado. Mason thought the district needed a traditional superintendent, such as Michael Hinojosa of Dallas. But Jones’ reputation as an education reformer swayed Mason.

Term limits forced him from the board after 16 years. He sees why voters would want fresh perspective in public office, but regrets the loss of experience.

Mason is the chief diversity officer at College of Southern Nevada, overseeing programs for minority groups.

What did you learn as a School Board member?

School districts don’t appreciate what a school board member comes in with. So there is some resentment toward board members, who are considered a necessary evil.

What’s your advice for the new School Board members, Erin Cranor and Lorraine Alderman?

They should ask questions. There are always two sides to a story. But they should believe only half of it and find out what the other half is.

Do you have advice for Carolyn Edwards, the new board president?

People can read your body language. If your body language is not forthright or it’s drill sergeant, then that won’t work. You have got to have that face of caring and that voice of caring.

What will happen in the legislative session, now that Bill Raggio, the powerful Republican lawmaker, has resigned and a third of legislators are new?

With a very new Legislature, the learning curve is high and quick. It will be like getting a Ph.D. in working as a Legislature. If legislators are smart, they’ll use Raggio as a consultant. History always repeats itself but we don’t have a lot of people who know history.

What will happen with the teachers union?

People will say that the teachers union will have to give back more than what it’s giving. Since 2000, the unions, including the teachers, have been very cooperative with the district and worked very well because we didn’t have major budget problems until recently. But now we’ve got problems. The teachers have to give more in order for the district to continue on.

As a major figure in public schools as well as an administrator in higher education, what key problem do you see in Nevada education?

Education is not part of the common language of many households. You may not be able to park cars at Bellagio, but you could work at Wendy’s. There are jobs, but they’re 8 bucks an hour. If parents don’t emphasize education, who will? We selected a school superintendent, one of the most powerful positions in the state. We should have had an auditorium of parents. We didn’t.

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