Democrats offer alternative to Nevada governor’s school plan | NevadaAppeal.com

Democrats offer alternative to Nevada governor’s school plan

BRENDAN RILEY
Associated Press
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada's Democratic lawmakers introduced an education "empowerment" plan to counter a proposal by Gov. Jim Gibbons on Thursday at the Legislature. From left are, Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas.
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Democratic legislators’ education “empowerment” plan, a counterproposal to Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons’ $60 million plan for localized decision-making in public schools, was introduced Thursday in the Nevada Senate.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, said SB304 isn’t “a silver bullet,” and must be part of other reforms including full-day kindergarten and increased pay for teachers. He also said it doesn’t carry the $60 million price tag that Gibbons’ plan has.

Gibbons, who was briefed by the Democrats on their Local Empowerment and Accountability in Public Schools, or LEAPS, plan, said Horsford “is on the same track that we are.”

“I like a lot of his ideas, and there’s a lot we can work on together,” said Gibbons, whose own empowerment plan was highlighted in his State of the State speech.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said the Democrats’ plan has a good chance of winning Senate approval even though Republicans control the house by a bare 11-10 margin. Assembly approval is certain given the Democrats’ 27-15 edge in that house.

Horsford and other Democratic lawmakers said their proposal has more accountability and less bureaucracy than Gibbons’ plan, and would start with a fifth of the 100 schools proposed by the governor. The slow start would ensure that startup bugs could be worked out, they added.

Under the Democrats’ plan, at least 16 Las Vegas-area schools and five Reno-area schools would be required to have LEAPS status by 2009. Rural school districts would have the option of starting the program.

Parents, teachers, a school principal and community leaders would be among members of a local team that could petition a school district. The team would develop a plan for a school’s operation, and have control over 90 percent of the budget and full control over teacher hiring and pay and student achievement.

The LEAPS status wouldn’t be permanent. A school that fails accountability status could have its designation revoked. Quarterly fiscal reports and an annual audit would be required.

Horsford said the plan doesn’t have a fiscal impact and instead provides local autonomy over dollars already allocated for education. He also said a $290 million state fund already exists for education improvements, and the LEAPS schools could tap into that if they need more funding.

The empowerment program sought by Gibbons is based on one set up in Edmonton, Alberta, in which school principals control almost all spending. Principals work with teachers, unions and parents to determine how to instruct students. Teachers are given a lot of leeway in classes but still must meet standards.

Of the $60 million proposed for the program by Gibbons, $15 million of the total would be for merit pay for teachers in 100 pilot schools. The rest of the money would provide more per-pupil support so that administrators could hire more teachers and make other changes to improve students’ schooling.

But the funding would require an existing retirement credit program for teachers to be scrapped, and top Democrats have said they may opt to keep that. The current program awards retirement credits to teachers who work in at-risk schools or in hard-to-fill instructional areas such as science and math.