LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — State lawmakers heard arguments on Monday for changing the makeup of the Clark County School District (CCSD) Board of Trustees, calling the board “dysfunctional.”
Assembly Bill 175 (AB175) would allow four governments — Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, and North Las Vegas — to have a voice on the school board. But not a vote. Four new appointed members would be involved to a degree, but they would not be voting members.
It already passed the Assembly 29 to 11 and now is in the State Senate.
And the talk got a little rough after CCSD testified against the legislation.
AB175 “seeks to experiment on the school-age children in Southern Nevada by imposing a non-evidence-based board structure that puts adult issues and power struggles ahead of the needs of kids,” according to Patricia Haddad, CCSD’s director of government relations.
Haddad followed with, “As we review this legislation, I implore you to ask, does the Legislature not trust voters? Does the first female-majority Legislature in the country not trust an all-female governing board comprised of a majority of women of color?”
Democratic State Sen. Dina Neal called that comment “below the belt.”
“We’re throwing dirt on that body for their actions, not for their composition, their racial composition, or the fact that they’re women. It’s because children are not performing. Period,” Neal said.
And there was a lot of dirt flying through the air at the Senate Education Committee hearing in Carson City. Testimony for and against AB175 wasted no time with political niceties.
Clark County Education Association President Marie Neisess accused CCSD of misusing its position.
“This morning, CCSD sent the clearest message they possibly could to this Legislature about the need for this bill. I am appalled to share that ahead of this hearing, CCSD sent an email to CCSD staff urging them to oppose this bill, saying it would be an assault on democracy,” Neisess said.
“It is unacceptable for CCSD as the employer to be using district resources to promote lobbying to employees while they’re at work. It is also yet another example of the district running from accountability,” Neisess said.
A Sunrise Mountain High School teacher provided the best summary of recent events — frequently labeled “dysfunctional” during Monday’s hearing. “For the past several years we have had to tolerate the unprofessional behavior of our school board trustees here in Clark County. We have seen infighting, name-calling and other outrageous actions. They have had to spend thousands of dollars to hire people to teach them how to behave and get along. This bill puts some accountability back in our school board,” according to teacher Dan Price.
Republican Sen. Carrie Buck said the mess “boils down to human behavior.” She said the problem might have been eliminated by the results of the last board election. Trustees Danielle Ford and Irene Cepeda were voted out. Cepeda was at the helm when CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara was fired, wooed to come back and eventually rehired. Ford was right in the middle of social media wars between trustees.
“It’s trying to fix this kind of episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’ that goes on,” Buck said.
Republicans and Democrats support AB175. The bill’s sponsors are Assemblyman Toby Yurek (R-Clark County) and Assemblywoman Shanon Bilbray-Axelrod (D-Las Vegas).
“We can’t just keep doing what we’re doing,” Bilbray-Axelrod said. “Is this perfect? Probably not.”
“At least we’re moving the needle,” she said.
Yurek said the effect of four new voices on the board should produce “better dialog.” He likened the problem to having someone move into your house. You have to deal with them on a different level than someone who is just a visitor.
View from inside
CCSD Trustee Irene Bustamante Adams testified against AB175, bringing her experience with the board over the past four months along with her past service in the Nevada Legislature.
“If you’re calling our baby ugly, I would have to say, yep, you are correct,” she said. “And I can say with confidence within the last 120 days our professionalism and our decor would be something that you would be proud of. I don’t want to be part of something that’s embarrassing.”
Bustamante Adams said she believes the board is already taking the steps needed to solve the problem, and AB175 isn’t necessary.
“I know the pain is there. That’s why I’m in, so I could see it from the inside,” she said.
“If this legislation moves forward, as we’ve heard, the basic democratic principle of one person, one vote will be eroded,” Haddad said. “Surely the voice of Clark County’s rural communities will be eclipsed. There are no limitations, guard rails or standards for these appointments. Appointed members would have no term limits and though touted as a way to bring expertise to the board, no language exists in the bill articulating who should qualify and what experience is needed.”
In addition to statements made at Monday’s hearing, the Legislature’s website has the testimony of seven supporters and six opponents on its website.