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July 26, 2014

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State Senate, Assembly candidates talk education at forum

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/Special to the Home News

From left, school board candidates Dr. Edward Goldman and Deanna Wright, and state Assembly District 21 candidates Ellen Spiegel and Jonathan Ozark smile after a light comment from Dr. Joe Heck (not pictured) during the Oct. 7 forum at Bob Miller Middle School.

Candidates speak out

State Assembly District 21 candidate Ellen Spiegel (right) addresses a question from the moderator as other candidates look on during a public forum held at Bob Miller Middle School on Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

While the presidential candidates were answering questions for a national audience, teachers had a chance to get some answers from Henderson candidates Tuesday at Bob Miller Middle School.

Ed Goldman and Deanna Wright, candidates for Clark County School Board, and Jon Ozark and Ellen Spiegel, candidates for State Assembly, faced off at the forum. State Sen. Joe Heck also answered questions, but his Democratic rival, Shirley Breeden, was a no-show.

To provide more reliable funding for education, Heck said the state needs to diversify the economy, increase the state's rainy day fund and examine the distribution of state taxes.

While he dismissed the notion of more business taxes or an income tax, he said education needs to be a higher priority.

"I did not agree with the way the budget cuts were accomplished in the special sessions," Heck said of the 9 percent across-the-board cut in education. "It should have been held more harmless."

Heck also said he supports deconsolidation of the Clark County School District, which he said would improve accountability and give greater control to teachers, principals and parents.

To deal with the budget crisis, school board candidates Wright and Goldman were asked where they would cut.

Goldman said he was in favor of cutting personnel costs and block scheduling.

"It allows those schools that have it have eight to 10 more staff members and effectively lowers class sizes in schools," Goldman said.

Wright stressed that the effects should be kept as far away from students as possible. She suggested examining the budget line-by-line, eliminating things like grass and implementing items like advertising on school district vehicles and hosting revenue-generating events at school buildings.

"It's kind of like trying to decide what part of your body you would amputate," Wright said.

Asked to list her top priorities, Wright said ensuring students graduate with better qualified teachers, improving school safety with things like cameras and bringing more technology into the classrooms.

Goldman agreed on the safety issue, saying he supported more metal detectors and altering the now-open designs of the schools. He also stressed the need to improve math instruction and said he favored students choosing what school they wanted to attend.

Goldman gave a whole-hearted endorsement of district deconsolidation, saying the district as it stands is too large to manage.

"I support deconsolidating along boundary lines so Henderson would have its own school district," he said.

However, Wright said there were both pros and cons with the issue. She said Henderson would have to come up with a large sum of money to buy buildings from the Clark County School District. But she said smaller schools are needed.

"I would have to talk to my constituents and know what they wanted," Wright said.

Assembly candidates Ozark and Spiegel also responded to the question of how to better fund education.

Spiegel said the economy must be diversified, and Nevada businesses should receive priority in landing governmental contracts. She also favored strengthening the rainy day fund, ensuring new residents register their cars in Nevada and examining the state's tax code.

"The state budget itself is one of the most convoluted documents I've ever seen," Spiegel said. "We need to take a very strong look at the state's priorities."

Ozark also favored economic diversification and criticized a decision made five years ago to send $300 million in state revenues back to residents.

"I think that was an abdication of responsibility," Ozark said.

Both were noncommittal on deconsolidation of the Clark County School District.

Spiegel said she would favor more local autonomy, but said a larger school district provides more resources for special needs students. Ozark said he favored giving more operational control to parents, but said a larger school district also has greater purchasing power.

Both Spiegel and Ozark said they were open to some form of merit pay for teachers. Spiegel said she favored some tuition reimbursement for teachers continuing their education as a way to retain teachers in Nevada.

Ozark said he was opposed to a compensation structure rooted in seniority.

"I don't think it benefits teachers who are busting their tails to do a good job and who's coming up with new ideas," Ozark said.

Nevadans for Quality Education Board of Directors member MaryJoe Parise-Malloy lauded the forum for posing good questions and being informative. However, she questioned the timing.

"It's too bad it was going on during the presidential debate," Parise-Malloy said.

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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