Friday, Nov. 7, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Change might have ruled the top of the ticket on Election Day, but in races for the Clark County School Board, it was the status quo in a landslide.
All four defeated candidates — Associate Superintendent Edward Goldman, teacher Ron Taylor, retired principal Ronan Matthew and Metro Police officer John Schutt — had pledged to be agents of change. They promised to push for such measures as breaking up the district, overhauling campus security and replacing Superintendent Walt Rulffes as chief executive.
Their victorious opponents — school volunteers Deanna Wright and Chris Garvey, district administrator Linda Young and incumbent Terri Janison — expressed confidence in the current direction of the board and Rulffes’ leadership.
“These School Board races were critical,” said John Jasonek, executive director of the teachers union, which endorsed and campaigned for the winning candidates. “They had the potential of changing the entire direction of the district, and undoing many of the positive relationships we’ve built in the last five or six years.”
The union’s endorsements of the newly elected School Board members likely gives some indication of the candidates’ priorities. For now, don’t expect to hear talk of breaking up the district or a search for a new superintendent.
Young, who is retiring this year as the district’s director of equity and diversity, said Rulffes has done a “fairly good job” of managing the nation’s fifth-largest school district.
Although there’s always room for improvement, and the School Board should demand it, any move to replace Rulffes now would be shortsighted, she said.
“We’ve got a lot of issues going on and our budget is in abysmal disarray,” Young said. “We have somebody who understands the issues and who works well with the Legislature. To pull him out and put somebody else in, I don’t think that would be prudent.”
Instead, the School Board’s primary focus will likely be the budget, which will endure more cuts in the coming months as state tax revenue continues to decline. Among their priorities will be finding a way to cut spending without cutting jobs.
Other issues on members’ radar include the district’s high school dropout rate, the achievement gap among at-risk students, and what many say is an undeserved public image of the district as substandard.
The board has had a largely positive relationship with the teachers union.
Recent joint initiatives between the union and the district include a training program to prepare high school students for careers as educators.
Additionally, the Teachers Health Trust will begin offering coverage to individuals who retire after Jan. 1 funded in part by contributions from the district. The deal was brokered after the district’s employees became ineligible for the state-managed benefits plan.
Jasonek said he wasn’t interested in rehashing why the union supported its slate of candidates. Of Goldman and Matthew, Jasonek would say only “it was our belief they didn’t share our priorities.”
Yet this was the first time that the union put more than token weight behind its endorsement.
“We probably put 25,000 man-hours into these elections,” Jasonek said.
Jasonek said that was necessary given what was at stake. With the district facing another $120 million in budget cuts on top of the $130 million that’s been lost, there’s no time for political theatrics, he said.
Six weeks ago, Jasonek studied the results of a union-commissioned poll on the Clark County School Board races. Incumbent Janison was headed to an easy victory. But in the other three races, at least 50 percent of likely voters said they hadn’t made up their minds.
Fifty-four percent to more than 70 percent said an endorsement from the Clark County Education Association would make them more likely to vote for a candidate.
“The public told us in these polls that our endorsement was meaningful — even among people who did not see us in a warm, favorable light,” Jasonek said. “We decided we could help our candidates by doing more.”
Expect the members they backed to return the favor.