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July 1, 2015

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In education power play, who will benefit from leadership vacuum?

Click to enlarge photo

Nevada State Superintendent Jim Guthrie testifies in an education committee at the Legislative Building in Carson City on March 1, 2013. Guthrie told lawmakers that effective teachers trump the issue of class size. Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones is at left.

March Madness in Nevada wasn’t just for basketball.

Last month, the state’s top two education officials left their jobs in the middle of the legislative session.

The power vacuum created by Clark County School District superintendent Dwight Jones and state superintendent Jim Guthrie could mean few education reform bills appear at the Legislature, or it could offer opportunities to interest groups pushing their own agendas.

“It gives people an excuse to say, ‘Oh, that’s complicated; let’s wait,’ ” said Brian McAnallen, lobbyist for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Who benefits from that?

“Anybody who likes the status quo and doesn’t want any decisions made and doesn’t want to move us forward,” McAnallen said.

Jones and Guthrie were known as reform-minded leaders unafraid to ruffle feathers and upset the status quo.

Education observers call their interim replacements — Pat Skorkowsky in Clark County and Rorie Fitzpatrick at the state education department — smart, well-spoken and experienced stewards.

They’re well-equipped to advocate a position, but they lack the mandate to make bold moves, legislative observers said.

“A strong voice at the helm, it’s going to be difficult not having that for them,” said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, the state’s teachers union.

McAnallen said the teachers union stands to gain in this situation because reforms will be up against a heavy slant toward the status quo.

The teachers union holds more power this legislative session than it did last session, when Democrats partnered with Gov. Brian Sandoval to pass bills that the union opposed.

Now, the union has a guillotine hanging over the heads of the Legislature and the governor in the form of the 2 percent business margins tax that will be on the 2014 ballot.

All the revenue from that tax would support Nevada’s schools.

Warne said inaction from the Legislature and governor could “only increase support for the margins tax because the Legislature was unable to procure funding for our schools.”

“It’s the one thing guiding the entire debate in Carson City,” one legislative staffer said.

This legislative session, there seems to be more consensus among Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature and Sandoval, a Republican, that the state’s education system needs more money. It’s just a matter of how much.

Sandoval has added money to education via his budget and Republicans in the Legislature have also put forward bills to spend more for education programs.

Following cuts in education budgets during the recession, Sandoval has proposed additional education spending in two realms: programming for English-language learners and full-day kindergarten in more schools. He’s based the proposal on research that full-day kindergarten is crucial for student success and that reading levels and graduation rates won’t improve until the state invests in English classes, according to the governor’s State of the State address he delivered in January.

“The nice part is that we all agree on this education stuff,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who wants more funding than the governor.

Click to enlarge photo

Elaine Wynn, shown here at a charity fundraiser in 2010.

Sandoval’s other education appointee, Elaine Wynn, also agrees that the state needs more money.

As director of the state Board of Education, she has a chance to advance education goals in Nevada this legislative session.

She’d worked as an education reformer for many years and told Desert Companion magazine that she was “going off into the sunset,” until Guthrie and Jones “met behind my back and a buzz was created. I was really taken by surprise. But I decided there was a falling into place of leadership that was all geared in the same direction, which was, ‘We’ve got to do something here.’”

Now, however, Guthrie and Jones are in Texas. Wynn is the last person standing.

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  1. It seems that no one is talking about all the new programs that were put into place the last few years, and are/were UNsustainably funded, and now, it appears, many of these programs paid for by taxpayer dollars, are being cut in schools for the next school year, and all the new highly paid administrators are being reshuffled to central buildings out of schools they were initially meant to serve.

    Yes, cut services to children to keep all these new administrative positions.

    As a taxpayer, this type of behavior on the parts of leadership sends the message that children, again, are acceptable losses in the education game. Voters should be outraged and demand cuts at the top where the real money is being spent, and require the necessary educational programs be returned to children.

    More and more educational programs are going to fall upon other funding, just as recently, a planned Reading Is Magic school assembly and a school Science Fair had to be funded by our school PTA because our school has NO funds available (and this is a Title 1 School).

    Go to your neighborhood school, ask about programs for next year, ask to see the school budget, observe what's going on in classrooms. This will provide you with a reasonable picture of what is truly going on in education, especially here in Southern Nevada.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. Who willl benefit from the leadership vacuum? What leadership? The leaders who skeedadle from the pressures of the powers-that-be?

    Who will benefit? Who else?

    First, they created a culture of distrust. For decades now, they stirred the pot by creating a law that requires schools to make AYP based on standards they divined from and under the belief that children should all learn the same, at the same rate, and at the same time. Then they declared schools as ailing, and ask their business buddies to 'create curriculum' and sold them as magic salves to school districts that 'caught the bug' they caused. They created businesses to hire out consultants and professional development programs and directors to administer the programs they created. They had their buddies create assessments programs to monitor the curriculum they created and require fidelity of implementation. The programs failed and the teachers were demeaned and blamed for the failure of education. They created teacher evaluation programs, fire teachers, de-tenured teachers, and reduced their salary and benefits. "It is all the teachers' fault.'

    The schools are still standing; the teachers toiled along; and honestly, they will stand strong sustained by principals and teachers who believe in children. Graduation ceremonies are scheduled and will be celebrated by children, teachers, and parents who revel in what they do. In eight weeks, children will receive their report cards and academic awards will be granted and celebrated. Many children will progress to the next grade as they always do each year. Schools and teachers continue what they do and school activities thrive as they always do.

    The powers-that-be who also own the media do not cover these achievements because there is no drama in them. There is more drama in superintendents and teachers indicted for cheating on high-stakes tests (how dare they!). They would rather cover news of the Kardasians pregnancies and divorces or Lohan's recent stint in jail.

    The schools and teachers will thrive. You cannot destroy indomitable spirits. Many will leave to seek greener pastures, but many too, will stay because it is what we do and we have weathered many a storm before, even worst than they have recently conjured.

  3. Those who hearts are there to serve, will always find that light of a bright future, illuminating the path of a child's future. We like to believe that good will always prevail over evil, and if there is a "will" there is also always a "way".

    Commenter Nancy Agustin laid it all out there on the line. Life does go on, with or without us. Those who stay their course in the educational world, will find those reasons to celebrate each and every day, because that is the power of life. A child trusts their teacher to share the courage, explore uncharted waters, and led the way into tomorrow successfully. On many levels, that happens every day, and I would like to think that it is not only exciting, but fun, along the way.

    Let's help our students by helping those close to them: parents and their teachers. Let's provide needed support that fosters a happy childhood and growth, both academically and socially. Thank you!

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Education Reformer: overly privileges wealthy person (usually white) that acknowledges poverty as being 65% of what causes a student to fail but who's own privilege depends on redirecting everyone's attention to the thing that only causes a student to fail 0.000001% of the time. Revels in constant attention.

    So, she honestly thinks people are stupid enough to believe that the three people she put in positions of power weren't doing what she told them to when they appointed her to the state education board? Elaine Wynn helped choose both Jones/Guthrie at the same time she was heavily funding Sandoval's campaign.

  5. The "leadership vacuum" needs people who are willing to create and stir virtues as self-motivation and inquiry. Teaching content that only serves to get passing scores on tests, does little towards developing character, perserverance, and goal setting, nor does it inspire young people to be or do better in life.

    One pressing question I have that maybe someone out there could answer: How would one go about having their neighborhood school transformed into a Math/Science magnet school?

    After living through one year of being mandated (by administration) to NOT teach science and social studies at a school, it became apparent how students began to digress academically and lose motivation in every way possible. A science fair was held and one witnessed how students were struggling with science ideas and science fair projects (although they were given time on the computers to research their interests as's project wizard surveying their personal interests). The joys and feelings found in learning science burn in a few, but has nearly been lost in the many. We simply cannot do that to kids.

    All of life revolves around science, math, and communication through writing, reading, speaking, listening, and technologies. Children come alive with the wonders of science, and with science, they can flex their muscles in other academic core areas.

    So if we already have a school facility, staff, technology, library, books, and field, what more is needed to get the ball rolling to transform a high poverty area's neighborhood school into a school that children will get excited over? Any takers on this one? Thanks ahead!

    Blessings and Peace,