The State of the State’s education |

The State of the State’s education

I listened to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State speech last week. If you missed it, his speech centered primarily on education.

The governor revealed the theory of his grand plan to reform education in Nevada.

He wants to make several changes. He plans to expand school choice. He wants to make educators accountable for their performance. He intends to study realignment of school districts. He proposes to change the funding mechanism set out in state statute. He desires to change collective bargaining procedures.

At first glance these seem like positive changes; however, the devil is in the details. For example, in order to change collective bargaining laws, NRS 391.3116 which basically says a negotiated agreement can supersede state statute. How will educators be held accountable and what recourse will be available if they don’t perform?

How will funding mechanisms change? Right now the legislature controls education spending. This was implemented to “smooth out” fluctuations in local revenue. Will that continue? Will the Nevada Department of Education make that determination, or will it be in other hands? How political will the process become after the changes are made?

As you can see, the theory sounds good but implementation can be problematic. Sandoval lost me when he announced that he wants to eliminate elected school boards and go with appointments. Appointments by whom? What happened to taxpayer voice?

He also wants to fund all this with a business margins tax. Didn’t a revenue tax for education get soundly defeated last year? Now he wants more of that? Again, the taxpayer seems to be forgotten.

Perhaps I would be more open to his ideas were it not for an incident that occurred a few days before the State of the State. A grass-roots group arranged to have a presentation and discussion on Common Core in three locations. This forum was to be between two professors who were involved with writing and ultimately would not agree to the national Common Core standards and two Department of Education employees whose job was to determine standards and curriculum.

Instead of adhering to the previously agreed to format, the Department of Education showed up en masse. There were over a dozen to present as opposed to the agreed-upon two. When the two professors and the presentation moderator stuck to their guns on the format, the Department of Education walked out, and then did not attend the other two scheduled presentations.

I was not at the presentation where the confrontation took place, but I have reviewed a video of it. From that unedited video, it is clear to me that the department attempted to take over the presentation by attempting to overwhelm the other side. Many government agencies implement this technique, either deliberately or unintentionally, when they don’t want opposition. It was apparent to me in the video that the education folks were deliberate in their actions. Otherwise they would have modified their stance.

At the Fallon presentation a letter from Superintendent Dale Erquiaga was read. Erquiaga’s position revealed that the disagreement was all the fault of the opposing professors. It appears the letter was written from a one-sided set of information. The aforementioned video indicated otherwise.

I applaud Erquaiga for supporting his employees; however, he is also a public servant and responsible to the taxpayers. I don’t believe he directed his people to engage in the antics they did, nor do I believe he was aware of it until afterward. I didn’t see that he attended the discussion. I suspect he is a victim, like many political appointees, of being undermined by entrenched career bureaucrats. I have first-hand experience, pre-Erquiaga, of the arrogance of this agency.

Regardless of your opinions or position on Common Core, the agency’s unwillingness to have an honest and open discussion about Common Core lends validity to its opponents. We deserve transparency from the Department of Education.

The occurrence and timing of this incident is unfortunate. At a time when the governor is proposing huge changes to the education system, the Department of Education has created an aura of distrust. Assuming the legislature enacts part or all of the changes proposed, can the agency be trusted to implement them following the legislature’s intent? Or will they twist the interpretation of any new law to suit their own views? Superintendent Erquiaga, please remember that you, by virtue of your oath of office you, are ultimately responsible to the people of Nevada, not the governor or your employees.

Tom Riggins is an LVN columnist. He may be reached at