Las Vegas Sun

October 4, 2022

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As election nears, retiring regent offers suggestions for board’s improvement

Regents NSHE building

Yasmina Chavez

The Nevada System of Higher Education offices in Las Vegas are home to the Nevada Board of Regents.

Patrick Carter’s term with the Nevada Board of Regents is coming to an end during what’s been a tumultuous tenure.

In his five years on the board that oversees the Nevada System of Higher Education, he has been accused but absolved of wrongdoing in his official role, and the regents as a whole have continually come under fire for a multitude of shortcomings.

But Carter, who decided against seeking re-election to his post this year, has some ideas about changes he’d like to see the board incorporate to better govern higher education in Nevada.

For starters, he thinks there should be separate budget buckets for the state’s universities and for Nevada’s community colleges.

“It’s been a little frustrating that we live in a state where the Legislature doesn’t prioritize funding for higher education,” Carter said. Every department in the state has shortfalls and cuts it must deal with, Carter said, but it seems like the Nevada System of Higher Education has taken the brunt of that.

“We’re also the engine that should be growing the economy and bringing employers here,” Carter said, adding there’s a “disconnect between funding priorities and priorities of the state.”

In the state’s 2019-2021 biennial budget, NSHE made up 7% of the state’s total expenditures, whereas K-12 education made up almost 17%. And in the state’s current 2021-2023 biennial budget, NSHE made up 6.5% of the state’s total expenditures, while the Department of Education made up 15.6%.

Carter also said the board should consider imposing certain requirements to be a regent, such as having an education background, and reducing the number of people on the 13-member board.

Additionally, he said, the board could consider doing away with the chancellor position and instead having an executive director that runs the NSHE office.

“The idea of the chancellor is that maybe there’s more influence on the institutions than necessarily needs to be there,” Carter said.

Another possible solution that has been attempted is to remove the Board of Regents from the state Constitution so the state Legislature could review and change the organization. A ballot measure in 2020 would have removed the constitutional status of the Board of Regents, but it failed to pass by 3,877 votes.

Carter doesn’t know if that’s going to work. If the whole idea is to model the Board of Regents after the K-12 board, he doesn’t know if that board has really helped with anything.

“I haven’t seen our ranking (in education) jump as a state,” Carter said. “I don’t want the public to be misled that all of a sudden, if they switch from this current setting of the board to some other type of board it’s going to have some immediate impact.”

Carter isn’t alone in his belief that the regents have some changes to make.

At a recent meeting, board Chairwoman Cathy McAdoo summed up the situation in one word: Broken.

Not unfixable, just broken.

McAdoo compared the board to a broken piece of pottery, but suggested it could be repaired, much like the Japanese method of filling the cracks with gold.

“You and I can be the shining gold in our strength and healing of any brokenness that we have experienced,” McAdoo told fellow regents at a meeting in April.

The board also needs to get back to the basics, NSHE’s Officer in Charge Crystal Abba said during the April 22 meeting, noting members have been “distracted.”

“I’ve seen this board sing,” Abba said in the meeting, “and we can get there, but we’ve got to focus on what we’re supposed to be doing here, which is you’re a governing board. And the one way you govern is through policy.”

How they got here

Personnel complaints. A revolving door of top leadership. Findings of unprofessional behavior and possible ethics violations. Political infighting.

That in recent years is what has become of the Nevada System of Higher Education and its Board of Regents.

For several years, the board and the institution have been in a state of tumult. There has been a revolving door of chancellors. The latest, Melody Rose, parted ways with the board in March, ending a four-year contract after just 19 months on the job. She was the fifth chancellor in the system since 2016.

The board has dealt with numerous complaints and investigations, from personnel to ethics grievances, in recent years.

Among the most recent was a complaint submitted by Rose, who last fall accused McAdoo and board Carter of gender discrimination, intimidation and retaliation.

An investigation by the Kamer Zucker Abbott law firm found insufficient evidence to support Rose’s claims. But it concluded the board had engaged in unprofessional behavior, was factionalized politically and had possibly committed ethical violations.

Regents approved a separation agreement April 1 with Rose, paying her $610,000 —

less than two years of her base annual salary of $437,750 — but barring Rose or the regents from making comments disparaging one another. The agreement also released the regents from any further claims by Rose against the board.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the public comment period for regents meetings have been riddled with discontent. Students, staff and community members often show up to criticize the board, accusing it of not advocating for the students, for being too lenient or too strict on COVID protocols, or for not being able to reach decisions.

Since Rose left, NSHE has faced other hurdles. Several employees have reportedly left NSHE, including Francis McCabe, the system’s longtime communications director, and Caleb Cage, a vice chancellor. The Sun reached out to those former employees for comments but did not get responses.

Abba, who is filling in until an interim or acting chancellor can be hired, does not comment publicly on personnel matters, but the exodus in part seems to be due to NSHE’s administrative office’s budget deficit.

The office is projected to exceed its current budget by about $1.2 million, plus another $610,000 for the settlement payment to Rose.

At the April 22 meeting, Abba outlined what dire situation the institution is in.

“We have a significant problem,” Abba said. “There is absolutely no way we can solve this problem in nine weeks (when the fiscal year ends).”

Clinger attributed the budget deficit to increased expenditures in legal fees, audit fees, property insurance and consultant contracts.

There’s also been a decrease in revenue that has contributed to the deficit, Clinger said. There was a 12% cut from the state budget, and a loss in investment income.

The system does have a savings account of sorts with about $4.6 million in reserves. Clinger projects to end the year with $2.6 million in reserves.

Abba and Clinger are working to reduce expenditures. They’ve put a hiring freeze in place in the system office and have terminated some contracts while continuing to review others.

Regents also brought up spending less on travel, booking flights earlier in advance and meeting virtually when possible.

“Our goal is to make the changes necessary so that when we project (Fiscal Year) ‘23 that it will end with a surplus,” Clinger said.

Next in line?

While Clinger and Abba work to overcome the budget crisis, the responsibility to address more systemic issues will likely fall on a new board.

Five seats — Districts 6, 7, 8, 11 and 13 — are up for election in November. District 7 and District 13 are in Clark County, and District 11 covers Pershing and Washoe counties.

Those who are leaving the board include McAdoo and Carter, who were recently reinstated to their leadership roles after the board voted to close Rose’s investigation against them. The sole incumbent seeking reelection is District 13 Regent John Moran.

McAdoo represents District 8, which covers a portion of Clark County, plus Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lincoln, Nye and White Pine counties. She did not return a request for comment.

Carter, who represents Clark County in District 6, said in an interview Wednesday he was leaving because of the politics of the board, not because of the investigation.

“It’s become a lot more political,” Carter said, “It’s the politics that have come in, and it’s just not been worth sacrificing my time.”

While the board has faced division, Carter said, a majority of regents have always “put the students first” and will continue to forge ahead.

This year’s regents races have drawn plenty of interest. Four candidates have filed in District 6: Heather Brown, Karl Catarata, Jeanine Dakduk and Brandin Manwill. Six candidates are vying for McAdoo’s District 8 seat; Jonathan Baltera, Michelee Crawford, Aaron Manfredi, Elmer Porter, John Patrick Rice and Stacy Smith. Three candidates have filed in District 11: Jeffrey Downs, John Gwaltney and Steve Laden. And Moran is facing challenges from two candidates in District 13, Jennifer Bandiero and Stephanie Goodman.

Reno resident Laden, who is running for District 11, said he had the background — 32 years working in financial services — to help get the system’s budget back on track.

“They’re clearly at a crossroads,” Laden said, “so I’m going to look forward instead of backwards. There is going to be, I feel, a great need for leadership that brings the board with its new members and its old members together.”

Politics is always involved, Laden said, as well as regional issues and priorities over universities versus community colleges. “Everyone’s going to bring an opinion and an angle that they want to approach issues with, and negotiate through those issues,” Laden said.

Porter, who is running in District 8, has been in education for 38 years, working as a teacher, a school technology director and a coach. He wants the board to make sure the next chancellor has a stake in Nevada.

“I would recommend and highly propose that we hire within Nevada,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of good people within NSHE now, within the system, that can be good chancellors, be good presidents and that type of thing.”