School board candidates grilled on various issues
Four of the five candidates running for a seat on the Churchill County School Board addressed questions Tuesday night at the candidates event sponsored by three organizations.
The organizations were American Association of University Women, Churchill County Education Association and the Churchill County Classified Association.
Incumbents Rich Gent, Clay Hendrix and Nona McFarlane were present as well as challenger Matt Hyde. Incumbent Carmen Schank was unable to attend due to personal matters.
The candidates were asked a series of both pre-designated questions and questions from the audience.
A concern is the decreasing numbers of students in the district who are now enrolling in the charter school. The candidates were asked how they would handle the growing competition with the charter schools.
“It’s easy to look at the charter school right now and say they’re having a lot of success,” Hendrix said. “The difference between us and the charter school is we have years of systemic development. The charter school developed out of people who didn’t like the way things were happening in the ‘traditional’ public setting. They put together how they wanted things done and picked how many students and the teachers they wanted. We need to change our self internally. We have Northside Early Learning Center, the middle school is a recognized school in the state of Nevada and we’re enhancing our honor program at the high school.”
Hyde said he does have a son who attends the charter school and with every student leaving to go there, the district is losing money. He believes, however, the charter school is here to stay.
McFarlane said it is something trustees don’t have a lot of control over. She said the district needs to improve communication and concentrate to make itself better. Gent echoed McFarlane’s response but also stated the schools need smaller class sizes.
All candidates agreed students from the charter schools should be allowed to try out for athletic teams. They reiterated the district is required to follow the laws that apply to the situations, and two of the candidates were unsure of the law of pay-to-play while the other two said with the current budget issues pay-to-play might have to happen at the middle school level.
It is no secret the trustees have had disagreements during their school board meetings, as noted by several audience members. When asked if there is a plan in place to prevent the public conflicts, answers were across the board.
McFarlane said she reads Nevada Revised Statutes and interprets things differently from the other board members.
“Being retired I spend a lot of time researching NRS, reading policies and calling to get information,” McFarlane said. “To some board members, they think I’m micromanaging which causes conflict. I think we’re moving in the right direction, and I think we’ve realized we haven’t been as professional as we could. We’ve scheduled a board retreat for January and this is something we plan to address.”
Gent said trustees are focused, but it is important for the trustees to listen to the other board members and what they provide. He said each board member brings something different to each situation.
Hendrix said the question has three opponents: contention, conflict and self-dealing. Self-dealing should never be allowed. Conflict is good to the point that it airs views and identifies opposing positions, and it brings a vote to the issues that needs to be decided by the school board. Contention in itself is terrible and breads more contention, he said.
“Just because you see board members up here expressing our views and disagreeing doesn’t mean we’re not friends,” Hendrix said.
Hyde said it is expected for the board members to have disagreement, but they should not do it publicly.
When asked if the candidates could redesign the school district system to enhance the learning for the students, all of the incumbents said more technology should be added into the classrooms.
“Kids today learn a lot quicker than I did and technology seems to be the way we need to go to help them learn better through technology,” Gent said. “I would make it so technology was available everywhere.”
Hyde said children today spend too much time on their cellphones and not enough time studying, so he would make sure cellphones weren’t allowed in the school buildings.
Representatives from the Churchill County Education Association typically attend school board meeting; the candidates were asked what role does the union play when making important decisions.
Again the four candidates agreed the input from unions is important when making decisions that will affect the district.
Common Core has been a big topic at the school board meetings with resident Jim Falk questioning the standards at every meeting.
All the candidates acknowledged the standards are mandated by the state and there is little the district can do without losing school funding.
“There are some Ph.D. individuals down at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who are having a hard time figuring out Common Core and how well it’s working,” Gent said. “We need more rigor, and we need to help our college-bound students.”
McFarlane said the concerns are not only with the standards but also with the student data tracking.
The winners of the four seats on the school board will be announced Tuesday night.