Gibbons rolls out school empowerment plan

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Gov. Jim Gibbons' talks about his school empowerment plan during a press conference Tuesday at the Capital. The proposal, which will cost a total of $60.7 million over the next two years, will give 100 Nevada schools the freedom to set their own schedules, curriculum and incentives.

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Gov. Jim Gibbons' talks about his school empowerment plan during a press conference Tuesday at the Capital. The proposal, which will cost a total of $60.7 million over the next two years, will give 100 Nevada schools the freedom to set their own schedules, curriculum and incentives.

The bill to create Gov. Jim Gibbons' school empowerment plan will be introduced in the Nevada Senate today.

The proposal, which will cost a total of $60.7 million over the next two years, will give 100 Nevada schools the freedom to set their own schedules, curriculum and incentives in hopes of improving student achievement.

Gibbons has described the concept as moving decision-making down to the individual school level saying, "We have the opportunity, I believe, to make a huge difference."

But while he and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, have said the discussion of how to best improve Nevada schools should be a bipartisan effort, there were no Democrats invited to the press conference.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, attended the event, saying he and fellow Democrats wanted to see exactly what the governor is proposing.

The plan as described by Gibbons would: have each school district establish an empowerment program for their public schools; create a plan for selecting and creating empowerment schools, setting out how they will operate and other issues; individual schools would create their own proposals and submit applications to become empowerment schools.

"What we're attempting today is to change the direction of our falling graduation rates, of our lower parent-participation rates," said Gibbons.

Raggio said he supports the concept, which he said has been tried in other jurisdictions and is being used in four Clark County schools already.

"We certainly want some change in our method of educating people," he said. "It's not a new concept, but one that has not been utilized enough."

Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, chairman of the Senate committee dealing with education issues, said he believes the plan "is going to make a great difference in our state."

The budget will provide $15.7 million for performance pay for teachers at those schools and $45 million for state funding that will mean about $550 more in state support per pupil than other schools in the state get.

Asked whether that would violate the Nevada Plan, which has guaranteed basically equal per pupil funding statewide since the late 1950s, Raggio said no.

"I don't see a hole in the Nevada Plan," he said.

Horsford said after the event he and the other Democrats support the empowerment concept. But he said he wants to know more about how the Gibbons plan would work. And he questioned whether a huge amount of funding is needed to make it work. Horsford said New York City is doing something similar without pumping $60 million in for 100 schools.

"I say we can do this without a lot of money," he said.

And, he said, he advocates performance pay for teachers in all schools, not just in "empowerment schools."

The Nevada State Education Association objected to the handling of the Gibbons proposal, saying teachers didn't get details until two hours before the press conference.

"We cannot believe he deliberately left us out of the design said union President Barbara Clark.

The bill will be reviewed by the Senate Human Resources and Education Committee as well as the Senate Finance Committee.

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