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Sandoval’s former adviser is running for state’s top education job


AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Dale Erquiaga gives a press briefing Friday, May 27, 2011, at the Capitol in Carson City. At the time, Erquiaga was a senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval. Erquiaga is now the state superintendent of public schools.

Updated Wednesday, July 3, 2013 | 6:36 p.m.

Dale Erquiaga, the former senior adviser to Gov. Brian Sandoval, has submitted an application to be considered for the state superintendent of schools.

"I can confirm that I just submitted my application," Erquiaga said in an email Wednesday morning. "I hope I have the opportunity to serve the state again."

Erquiaga resigned from the Sandoval administration in late May 2012 to move to Arizona to be near his children. He currently serves as the interim executive director for the Arizona Humane Society and has consulted for the Western States Arts Federation and the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation.

Erquiaga was Sandoval's chief policy director and speechwriter between November 2010 and June 2012. Previously, Erquiaga was the director of government affairs, public policy and strategic planning for the Clark County School District, and before then, the former vice president of public relations firm R&R Partners.

Erquiaga, who was Sandoval's chief adviser on education policy, is considered a frontrunner for the state superintendent position. Erquiaga had been a well-liked and trusted adviser to Sandoval in the early years of his administration.

When asked by a reporter if Sandoval contacted Erquiaga to encourage him to apply for the position, Sandoval press secretary Mary-Sarah Kinner said only that "the process is not predetermined."

Minutes later, Erquiaga returned the reporter's phone call and when prompted with the same question, said he was not asked by Sandoval to apply. Erquiaga said he was encouraged to run for state superintendent by his friends, family and former colleagues in Nevada.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about it," Erquiaga said. "It was not an easy decision."

The Nevada State Board of Education is currently looking to replace Jim Guthrie, who abruptly announced his resignation in late March without giving any reason. Sandoval is expected to announce a new state superintendent by the end of the summer.

The next state superintendent would take the helm of a troubled education system that has suffered from a lack of consistent leadership at both the state and district levels. In addition to Guthrie, the superintendents of Nevada's two largest school districts have also departed in the past year.

Nevada's superintendent of public instruction serves at the pleasure of the governor and executes K-12 education policies set by the governor and the state school board. The state superintendent, who will be paid a base salary of about $125,000, would oversee Nevada's 17 school districts, which educate nearly half a million students.

The state's human resources department is currently accepting applications, which will close on Friday. Interim state superintendent Rorie Fitzpatrick, a democrat, has also expressed interest in the position, but has yet to submit her application. She plans to file her application by Friday's deadline.

Fitzpatrick, who has been interim superintendent for about three months, said she sees both Erquiaga and herself as strong candidates for the position. She called Erquiaga a "bright and capable individual," and stated she is confident Sandoval would choose the best superintendent for Nevada children.

"(Sandoval) is a rational and deep thinker," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't think he'll be unduly influenced by personal relationships or political affiliation."

If Fitzpatrick is not chosen by Sandoval to become the permanent state superintendent, she may be selected by the superintendent to serve as his or her deputy.

According to the job posting's "desired qualifications" –- which are desired, but not mandated -– applicants should have experience working in the classroom and school administration, as well as experience with English-language learner students and large budgets.

Applicants should work collaboratively with lawmakers, business and community leaders, parents and school leaders to close the achievement gap between different student groups and improve underperforming schools. In addition, applicants should be "strongly committed to education reform and a student-first philosophy" and be a "team player."

Erquiaga has experience lobbying for the Clark County School District and deep political ties in Nevada. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from UNR and a master's degree in leadership from Grand Canyon University.

Fitzpatrick has been a licensed schoolteacher since 1998, but has never been a full-time teacher. However, she has three years of instructional experience as a substitute teacher working with young, special-needs children, as well as experience in the state education department. Fitzpatrick has a bachelor's degree in agricultural studies and a master's degree in education with a specialty in early childhood special education from UNR.

After reviewing all the applications, the state's human resources department will submit the names of six candidates to the state school board, which will vet each candidate at its July 25 meeting in Carson City. The board will narrow the candidate pool to three names, which will be forwarded to the governor's office.

Ultimately, Sandoval will select the next superintendent from that pool of three candidates, according to a new state law implemented in 2011. Sandoval is expected to announce Guthrie's replacement in August.

Sun political editor Anjeanette Damon contributed to this report.

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