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May 4, 2015

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Despite huge stakes, Nevadans ho-hum on budget

Rally Against Education Cuts

Alec Miller, 6, cheers as Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, addresses the hundreds gathered Saturday, April 30, 2011, at Cashman Field to protest proposed cuts to education. Launch slideshow »

Successful politics are often about the ability of lawmakers to sell a story that illustrates what they’re pushing. Legislative Democrats are convinced they’ve done just that as they paint pictures of the potential fallout from Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget cuts. Yet those messages aren’t convincing Nevadans.

Some point to the failure of Carson City journalists to consume and regurgitate the messages. Lawmakers have spoon fed them detailed accounts of coming gloom and doom with massive budget cuts to the state’s colleges and universities, public schools and social service programs. Even so, the stories have been written and broadcast. The messages are out there. But not many Nevadans are speaking out.

They’re not routinely packing legislative hearings in Northern Nevada or the televised satellite sessions in Las Vegas. Parents aren’t flooding potential Republican swing votes in the state Senate and Assembly with letters, emails and phone calls. To be sure, hundreds of messages have been sent. Calls have been made. Dedicated parents and social service users and advocates have turned out in modest numbers for meetings and rallies to oppose the cuts. But the hyperpoliticization of public employees witnessed in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere hasn’t happened in Nevada.

We’re familiar with the theories for this region’s relatively low level of political engagement. People live here but many don’t care about the community. They’re colonists rather than pioneers, taking what they can in hope of eventually leaving rather than committing to staying and building the region.

Add to that, people are emotionally exhausted and physically drained by three years of economic collapse. They’ve lost jobs and a great deal of hope. Personal savings and retirement funds are depleted or gone. Many have lost their homes. Others are trapped in houses that are worth half or a third of the mortgages they hold. This is a state of boom and bust cycles, and on the way up there was an arrogance of sudden-found wealth and success.

On the way down there’s the insecurity and fear that comes with a troubling present and an unknown future. We’re trying to get through the day, and participating in the political process to prevent another round of budget cuts doesn’t quite rise to the level for many of us of feeding the family, keeping or finding a job, and holding onto the house or apartment.

Two weeks ago, a midday rally was held in a Cashman Field parking lot for Clark County School District teachers, support staff, parents and students to protest the cuts as well as changes to the state law that permits teachers to collectively negotiate their contracts. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, temperatures in the low 70s, blue skies and a steady breeze.

The parking lot provided plenty of space for thousands of angry people who were opposed to the loss of as many as 1,800 school district jobs. Democratic legislators, union activists and community organizers spoke. They shared tales of increasingly overcrowded classrooms that will hinder the education of tens of thousands of students, the loss of hundreds of enthusiastic first- and second-year teachers, the elimination of vital programs that nurture and retain students.

The crowd heard how the troubled Clark County School District, with its relatively low per-pupil spending and troubling high school dropout rate, needs all of the money it can get.

An estimated 1,200 people showed for the April 30 event sponsored by the Clark County Education Association and the Service Employees International Union. That’s 1,200 people in a region with 309,000 public school students, a school district with 37,300 employees, 18,010 of whom are teachers, a supposedly vocal linchpin to the Democratic Party’s organizational backbone. The event was publicized by fliers distributed to teachers and parents. It was mentioned during PTA meetings and discussed curbside while moms and dads waited for their children at the end of the school day.

Event organizers offered the best public spin they could for the turnout, but many of the participants were privately troubled by the numbers.

“People feel hopeless,” one political organizer said later. “We have a governor who has taken a hard stance against raising taxes. Nevada has a history of cutting budgets incredibly low, and there isn’t a strong history of communications between youth populations and elected officials.”

Then she offered this thought: “This generation is more civically engaged than prior generations. To me the question is, why are they volunteering more but aren’t engaging in the political process? Do they not feel like they really have a voice?”

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  1. Political action, like everything else is taught. Our community has felt ineffective to it's power players for years. I guess to some this feels like a small turn-out, to me it feels like watching a toddler begin to walk.

    We are becoming something that is difficult to do in this state - organized.

    We only need a few more of the registered voters in this state to turn out and a more balanced approach will take over this state. Yes, people are discouraged. Yes, people are economically strapped. But they are learning . . . how to advocate for themselves. That should be a scary thing for those who have traditionally held power. A more diverse point of view is gaining power.

    The people who are waking up - will be excited by people like Horsford, who, inspite all odds, are holding to what is right and not letting themselves be bullied.

  2. I am not convinced of the doom and gloom. Nevada's students have been underperforming for a very long time. There is much waste and there are no signs of life as far as proven reforms that may increase child education. They wont even accept the layoffs on merit as opposed to seniority. Seems like educators are still missing the point. Students first! We shouldn't be throwing good money into a flawed system.

  3. @ Tanker1975
    I wish more people would not think Democrat or Republican but as NEVADANS. I bet a lot more of our problems would be on their way to being solved.

  4. This entire article should read something more like "After almost 30 years, the people of Nevada start to wake up, they are still groggy but there are signs of life, finally."

    The sad truth of the matter is that some of the media actually think it's possible to take a completely apathetic populace and turn it into a roaring raging rally town in just a couple of months. It is NOT possible.

    Comparing Nevada's engagement levels to Wisconsin's is about the same as believing Jack's magic beans will grow a bean stock with gold at the top (the no giant version). Those people in Nevada that have paid attention to their communities and been engaged with them knew that Nevada was not going to pull a Wisconsin. The real miracle has been watching a fledgling student movement finally rise (something we haven't ever seen in Nevada).

    Justin Stivers,
    They aren't missing anything. Common sense would tell you that the union busting efforts put forth in Nevada by Michelle Rhee, under the guise of governor Sandoval, are short sighted at best and litigious at worst. Even she has admitted so, not that this has stopped her from pushing a simple but flawed ideology of strict merit versus strict seniority. Real life isn't that simple. The reality is that the ratio of teachers that are let go whom are new teachers ,with higher success rates with students, is 1 in 10,000. While Rhee's slogans resonate with people they don't ever come close to the reality. Full implementation of her policies leads to the laying off a thousands of master teachers that are out performing new teachers but that cost a couple thousand dollars more a year in wages. Again, it's a short sighted policy push.

    If you really want to track student success and see where the real villain lies it becomes quickly apparent that the real problem is "No Child Left Behind" and it's failed policies. Removing it's policies won't make any private school investors rich and won't allow the governor to lay off good teachers in order to reach his deluded budget goals. Therefore, you won't be seeing him or Rhee push to have it removed even though doing so would be a real "students first" policy move.

  5. LVSReader: Thanks for the comment. The story was prompted by the concerns of a large number of people I've interviewed who believe that in this environment many more people should be attending such events. In fact, several organizers were concerned that "just 1,200" showed up for the April 30 rally. Bottom line, the story is designed to reflect some of those concerns, spark discussion and prompt ideas for future stories.



  6. Well, Dave, consider this; you are coming to this story with a different background than a typical reporter. You spent years talking to community activists and very concerned citizens for almost 5 days a week on State of Nevada. When looking from either that perspective or from the perspective of a community activist, 1200, 2000, 5000, even 10000 wouldn't be enough.

    Let me suggest a different perspective from which you should view what is happening. Look in the Sun's vault for another period of time when demonstrations that regularly raised up to and over a thousand people were taking place as often as they have been for this legislative session. What about the number of phone calls, emails, snail mails, etc?

    To view the activism that is taking place from the point of view of, "there could always be more" offers no differentiation or analysis when comparing it to any other movement in Nevada's history. To view the activism that is taking place from the point of view of, "historically, has there ever been this kind of sustained effort that has been attended to this degree" would be more interesting.

  7. Good point, William. I'll certainly bring that up in a follow-up piece that I write. That said, teachers and school administrators are troubled by the fact that in their minds relatively few show up for neighborhood meetings. That could be a reflection of the three-shift nature of the town. Also could reflect a failure to publicize such events. Nonetheless, it's a common refrain that I hear. As you and other posters beneath this story consider this piece, what other aspects of the school debate should we be writing about?

  8. If you considered the demographics of Nevada, and the people's habits, all the apparent complacency can be traced to either energy levels, interest, and culture/religion. When a great portion of youth and older people are church goers, they are NOT spending their time protesting or voicing concerns. You won't see them, because they aren't there.

    Then you have the folks who are wildly concerned about ICE showing up and doing a raid, causing THEM grief. These individuals care a great deal about education and what is going on for their children at school, but there is the fear factor, and a shame factor of possibly not being articulate enough and embarassing themselves. They want to help, but all they can offer is encouraging a teacher and "praying" for them. Okay.

    This time of year is packed with events, and IF you are a parent and a teacher, your dance card is pretty full much of the time. AND if you have some condition that might limit you, that also is a factor in making appearances at "organized" events. You live in fear towards the end of the day, that if you sit quietly for two minutes, that will lead to a four hour nap!!! You are exhausted from all the activities and commitments. Letter writing, phone calls, and media comments tend to be safe bets for many busy people who are on an "energy budget".

    Perhaps this is exactly what the Governor expects and plans on. Folks are too beaten down, wore out, over-commited, or plain scared to put up much of a resistance.

    This current 30+years of kick the can tyrancy will likely end with a real shake up: civil unrest. You cannot continue to oppress citizens without them revolting. People will grow more resentful, distrustful, and angry. It is coming, I have lived to see it before in the South and with the Watts Riots, California. Change will come either by cooperation or coersion.

  9. Having a child educated in Northern Nevada, I can testify that he received a world class education there. Coming to Southern Nevada for the balance (complete college/university degree education) offered a change in delivery and quality of services. Teaching here in Southern Nevada is quite challenging, as folks do not really welcome teachers into their lives, they tend to maintain an advesarial relationship/not close/not truly caring---this is what does not serve a child or adult person trying to learn or become educated.

    Learning is a joint venture--"Let's go see," "Let's find out," "What made this happen?" and so on. The teacher and student go together on this journey where it is all about discovery and learning and applying. That "life" goes on between a student and a teacher. Paranoia, dysfunctional attitudes, and lawsuits tend to kill that quality of "life" and kind of education a person has. Policies restrict "involvement" and foster the kind of low quality outcomes you have today. There's NO MONEY INVOLVED here, just attitudes and values.

    For years, Nevada has mandated schools to have teachers administrate the PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT contract each school year at conference time. It costs MILLIONS OF DOLLARS, yet there are NO enforcement teeth in it! Come on people! Make this have teeth or eliminate it, as it takes time and energy for staff and parents. Really.

    Sometimes, the numbers or statistics just aren't perfect. Last night, on LV PBS listened to high school Principal Montoya, stating that the drop out rates would show lower rates but for the problems with PAPERWORK. That is happening everywhere. Did computers really make workloads lighter?

    Part 1

  10. Part 2
    One reader in the comments spoke about how much of the money for education actually never makes it to the classroom, but pays the "layers" of people and services in between, very true. Teachers are still slumming around for free stuff and deals for their classes though, who thanks them for doing this kind of work on their off duty time?

    NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND needs to go. It leaves countless children behind. Its author recanted and disproved it 2 years after it was implemented. Now it chains educational funding down as a slave to the Federal Government. That needs to end. NCLB does NOT allow for second language students, and guess what Nevada has? Second language students are now the majority and all others are the minority. How do you expect to meet AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) or rise from bottom in national educational rankings? Please don't blame the teachers or unions or tenure for this.

    Nevada will have a participation problem. When you have 2nd language folks in the shadows avoiding exposure for fear of deportation, and then others who have given their all and have full plates and simply can't handle another thing like a rally, and then the folks who are burnt out over the 30+ years of kick the can with politicians doing self-service/pad their pockets, and retire on the taxpayer nickel, or those who see 2012 will be the end of time and the world. Take your pick, you are right either way.

    The United States of America has lost its world ranking when it began to lose respect for teachers, and not treat its teachers with respect. Nevada will be the state to avoid if you have a family. Nevada will again be the place where people think of it as a desert and a place to take a gaming vacation, and that's it.

    The mega-wealthy wins and the worker (may still have a low paying job & no benefits to few) wins. Right.