Raggio: strip power from Board of Education

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, proposed Friday stripping the power over public education from the State Board of Education.

That elected board now controls the Department of Education and selects the state's superintendent of education. But both governors and the Legislature have been frustrated for decades by the board's actions. Raggio said public schools consume 35 percent of the state's general fund budget, yet the governor and Legislature have no control over the department.

He said major reforms were made in 1997 because the department was making almost no progress developing state standards for education and there was a vacuum in leadership.

"Neither the governor nor the Legislature at that time was able to get the board to act," he said.

So the Nevada Education Reform Act was passed creating legislative oversight committees to push for reform including creation of standards for school districts to meet.

"The state board wants us to undo all those changes, to move back to the past by eliminating or reducing the structure we put in place," he said.

Raggio said it's time to change the system.

"We have primary responsibility for our state's system of public education," he said.

And the primary reform he called for in SB540 is to turn the Board of Education into an advisory panel reporting to the superintendent rather than being his governing board. In the bill, the governor would appoint the superintendent, not the board, and he would report to the governor just as other agency heads do.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, joined Raggio in supporting the plan. She said the board would become the State Commission on Education and act to advise the superintendent. She said existing commissions on academic standards, educational excellence and technology would all move from the legislative branch to the department of education. She said the changes would simplify the system and increase the involvement of the governor.

Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said many of the changes in the bill are good ideas. But she said she has a problem having the governor instead of the elected board appoint the superintendent.

Carole Vilardo, of the Nevada Taxpayers Association, said that group has supported such a change for several years.

"I've had conversations with two different governors who had concerns because of the lack of input they have in the process," she said.

Board of Education member John Gwaltney said the bill makes far too sweeping a change to do in the limited time lawmakers can spare this session. He called instead for a study of the whole system to determine what's best. The study would report to the next Legislature.

The committee took no action on the bill, which is exempt from Friday's committee-action deadlines because it has a significant fiscal note of more than $300,000 per budget cycle.


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