Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2019

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Families hear from candidates vying for education leadership positions

Three state Board of Regents seats and three Clark County School Board spots are up for election this year, races that advocates worked to draw attention to through a Wednesday night candidate forum.

The Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that coordinates scholarships and drafts education solutions, hosted the event for about 40 attendees. Moderator Steve Sebelius of KLAS Channel 8 said education is likely the state’s most important job, although electing those leaders is at the bottom of the ballot and can be overlooked by voters.

The 10 candidates who attended discussed ideas for improving student achievement as well as financial management, with the Clark County School District’s $2.4 billion budget and the Nevada System of Higher Education controlling more than $800 million. CCSD is also facing a $68 million budget shortfall for the 2018-19 school year.

The Guinn Center, HOPE for Nevada and the LCC Professional Mujeres Group organized the event.

Irene Cepeda, a project coordinator at Nevada State College, was the only candidate at the forum vying to represent District D, held by Kevin Child. The embattled incumbent is running against four others to keep his seat after being banned from CCSD property over complaints about his behavior.

Cepeda said she is a product of the district and has been working in education for nine years, working with students as they transfer up from middle school and through college. She said the district needs to push the Legislature to use a weighted funding formula, which would increase per-student funding for low-income students, those with disabilities and kids learning English.

Nine candidates are running for the District F seat, held by term-limited Carolyn Edwards. Mary Ballinger, Eileen Eady, Danielle Ford, Kali Fox Miller and Michael Thomas attended the forum.

Thomas, a former member of the CCSD Police Department, was the only candidate who supported arming teachers, saying those who are should be qualified, and the guns should be locked in cases and not carried around campus. He also said the district needs to better use the money allocated to it by the Legislature, and emphasize vocational training. Thomas was also the only trustee candidate in favor of Education Savings Accounts.

Ford said that she dropped out of a CCSD high school and that the district failed her. She also stressed the importance of vocational programs for kids who may not succeed in traditional subjects, as well as getting the Legislature to adequately fund education.

Ballinger is a school organizational team member and mother of eight, including a 6-year-old boy in the district. She said the district needs to go to the Legislature and get adequately funded.

Eady is a teacher with experience in large and small districts, special education and as a paraprofessional. She said she understands where teachers are coming from, and said closing the achievement gap comes down to funding. Eady pointed to the Legislature’s moves to sweep room tax revenues intended for education into other funds.

Miller, an auditor who worked for the DMV and lawyer who served as deputy attorney general, said she’s had experience working with large budgets. She said students need to have education plans from the start that follows them to their next teacher. She also advocated for education tracks that would help low, middle and high-achieving students improve.

The School Board appointed former CCSD teacher Linda Cavazos to represent District G in August 2017. She took over for Trustee Erin Cranor, who left to go to BYU law school, and is running to keep the spot. She was the only incumbent at the event and faces challenger Ryan Scalia.

Cavazos said that in her time on the board, she’s realized how important communication is for a district of CCSD’s size. She also said the School Board needs to spend more time talking about student achievement, and more data is needed to close the achievement gap between certain students. Cavazos also said revenue sources intended for schools, such as pot taxes, need to be clearly delineated for education, not shuffled around before it gets there or swept into other accounts.

The Legislature put a 10 percent pot tax into the rainy day fund and supplied the Distributive School Account with general funds. According to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office, the $63.5 million of projected pot tax revenue is going to the DSA.

The District 4 regent candidate is running unopposed, with current officeholder Allison Stephens running for Congress. Most candidates will face off in the June 12 primary, and the top two candidates for each seat will compete in November.

A single Nevada System of Higher Education District 1 candidate, Jo Cato, attended the forum and is facing three others for the seat. Cato runs her public relations firm and teaches a class for small-business owners, and said she would help get more kids to pursue degrees beyond high school by cultivating a better relationship between secondary and higher education.

District 12 candidate Coates, chairman of the American Chemical Society of Southern Nevada, said students should be able to lock in their freshman year tuition rate so that they don’t see fees increase each year they’re in school. Coates said he was asked to run by a regent.

Amy Carvalho said retiring District 12 Trustee Andrea Anderson asked her to run. Anderson has been on the board since 2009. She said dual credit courses and similar programs that help get more students into higher education are where she’d want to focus as a regent.

Clark County School Board candidates

District D, held by Kevin Child

Cepeda, Irene

Child, Kevin

Martinez Jr., Leobardo

Thompson, Eli

District F, held by Carolyn Edwards

Ballinger, Mary

Eady, Eileen

Ford, Danielle

Gardner, David

Miller, Kali Fox

Musemici, Tammi

Thomas, Mike

Trumbull, Jacquelyn

Wilson, Johnny

District G

Cavazos, Linda

Scalia, Ryan

Nevada System of Higher Education, Board of Regents candidates

District 1

Cato, Jo

Mallory, Jack

Olson, David

Perkins, Laura

Ramirez, Eddie

District 4

McMichael Sr., Donald

District 12

Carvalho, Amy

Coates, Andrew

Coca, T. Rao

Gutschick, Bob