Commentary: Senate should keep checks, balances on education board

I attended a legislative hearing on April 8 and testified before Sen. Wiener's Human Resources and Education Committee. The bill was Sen. Horsford's SB330 and it concerned education reform.

This bill proposes significant steps to improve Nevada's public schools. It is a follow-up to the substantive reform efforts made by Sen. Raggio and others over the years and is consistent with upgrading academic standards, setting achievement benchmarks, improving student testing and reporting, and providing performance pay for teachers.

SB330 is still being revised, and some of what I note here may be changed before it is finalized.

I had two cautions. My first focused on the selection of the new state board and the state superintendent. The bill proposes to change the state board of education from its current 11 elected members to three elected, three appointed members (appointed by the governor and the Legislature) and, in 2010, electing a seventh member to a newly formed board.

This is a fundamental change in state educational governance; and although I don't have a particular problem with the governor appointing board members, the Legislature needs to exercise its advise and consent authority. Political checks and balances are necessary in school governance to protect it from partisanship.

The governor would select a superintendent from a list of three names. He/she would make the final selection for a multi-year period. The current superintendent selection process is by the elected 11-member board of education and is for renewable three-year periods. Again, I have no particular problem with the governor appointing a superintendent. But if done the way SB330 proposes, it should be with the advice and consent of the Senate and for at least a three- or four-year period.

I also expressed concern about maintaining strong leadership. No policy can succeed without it. State Superintendent Keith Rheault is an outstanding leader, held in high regard nationally. He is well respected by Nevada's education leaders and by a majority of the Legislature. SB330 will have a new appointive process for the superintendent. It will take an experienced leader to make the bill work. The governor and Legislature should keep Dr. Rheault for a few more years to make certain the reforms are enacted.

The more important second issue I raised concerned the need to re-examine the entire public school governance system. The Legislature needs to look at the system of higher education and local school district governance, both of which must work together, seamlessly, and both of which are in major need of overhaul.

These are complicated public policy issues and should be put on the table for review as we look to the future of education reform in Nevada.

- Dr. Eugene T. Paslov, former Nevada superintendent of schools, is a board member for Silver State Charter High School in Carson City.

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