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April 16, 2014

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EDUCATION:

Fresh blood for difficult times

New School Board members see budget as biggest challenge

Image

Justin M. Bowen

Erin Cranor (with her husband, Bud, and children, Billy, 10; Tanner, 16; Erin, 14; and Lauren, 12) says she took a more active interest in education in 2000 after a principal asked her to attend a school meeting. “I just caught fire, became passionate about education,” she said.

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Lorraine Alderman, a former teacher, says students misbehave to get attention: "What do you do when you're 13? You can't tug on the teacher's apron, so you talk out of turn."

Newly elected School Board members Erin Cranor and Lorraine Alderman are walking into what may be the most wrenching year ever faced by the Clark County School District.

And they approach their jobs from different backgrounds but a shared perspective.

Alderman knows the district from the inside out based on a quarter-century as a schoolteacher, principal and administrator.

Cranor has served the district on the outside looking in, having led a parent committee overseeing the ever-changing school boundaries.

They join five veteran School Board members bracing for a year of trauma and transition.

The trauma: The year is likely to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts, on top of the nearly $400 million in cuts that have been spread over the past three years.

And the transition: A newly selected superintendent, Dwight Jones, and a newly elected governor, Brian Sandoval, will have just started their jobs in January when Cranor and Alderman are sworn in.

School Board meetings will increasingly resemble the lion’s den of the ancient Roman Coliseum, with the School Board as the Christians and an enraged public the lions.

Alderman grimaces when she contemplates the likelihood of even harsher budget cuts.

“How do you tell a cancer patient you can only afford to have a certain number of treatments, when you really need the full chemo and the full radiation and home health care?” said Alderman, who had a cancer scare last year.

“How do you tell a patient, ‘Yeah, you’re only going to get a vitamin shot?’ ” Alderman said, her voice rising. “That’s almost what we’re looking at.”

On paper, Cranor, who turns 41 this month, and Alderman, 53, couldn’t be more different. Cranor is a stay-at-home mom with children whose ages range from 10 to 16. Alderman, a career woman, has a grown stepson.

But in independent interviews, they both used, almost word for word, their top priority in an age of austerity for Clark County: “If a child can read, a child can learn.”

And both carry around white three-ring binders crammed with organization charts and data.

For both, the state budget numbers are crushing.

Fifty-five cents of state spending is for education — 15 cents for colleges and 40 cents for K-12 (more than half going to Clark County).

The next biggest chunk — 29 cents — is health and human services for the elderly, the disabled and the poor. After that is 9 cents for the Highway Patrol and other public safety services.

Everything else — including prisons and the Department of Motor Vehicles — is 7 cents.

If, as state budget Director Andrew Clinger projects, the state will fall short by 46 cents — up to $3 billion — budget cuts will be harsh, even if tax increases are imposed.

The recent estimates for the deficit have fallen but remain high. So the question is not whether the ax falls on education, but how deeply.

Cranor was born in Pocatello, Idaho, the daughter of a religion instructor at Idaho State University and a homemaker. She grew up in a working-class area and is the eldest of seven children. At one point, she and her siblings qualified for free or reduced-charge lunches at school.

She met her husband, Bud Cranor, at Brigham Young University (both are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and moved to Las Vegas for her husband’s job in 1995. Her husband is spokesman for Henderson’s city manager.

In 2000, a principal asked Cranor to attend a school meeting, the topic of which she can’t remember, but recalls being enthralled. “I just caught fire, became passionate about education,” she said. That led to seven years on the attendance zone advisory committee, a volunteer parent panel with 15 members that monitors changes in school boundaries.

One benefit of flat enrollment and the end of new-school construction this year, Cranor said, is greater stability. Next year, the district is introducing open enrollment where parents can apply to any school with empty seats, giving parents more choice, she said.

She won handily (53 percent to 47 percent) against James Brooks, a 20-year-old community college student. Brooks rarely campaigned.

The coming year may be an opportunity to rethink what a school is, Cranor said. “I’ve heard the metaphor of factory frequently, that students are items on an assembly line that needed to be fitted with facts.

“What if we think of our schools the way we think of our smart phones, as a great new app, as a great way of pulling what they need for an uncertain future?”

Like Cranor, Alderman wasn’t born in Las Vegas, but it was a close call. She is the daughter of a change girl in the pre-ATM era of casinos and a floor man at the Fremont, where they met. Alderman was born in Coronado Naval Air Station, near San Diego, where her father was a Navy recruiter.

Alderman attended local schools, including Valley High School. After UNLV, where she majored in history and got a master’s degree in public administration, she taught seventh-grade social studies at Von Tobel Middle School. By 1995, she had risen to dean of students at Johnson Middle School.

“Being an administrator was an eye-opener,” Alderman said. “I finally started to get why children didn’t behave in class. Mostly, it’s because they have no other way to get attention. It’s a variation of the Apron syndrome, where children tug on their mothers’ aprons to get their attention.

“What do you do when you’re 13? You can’t tug on the teacher’s apron, so you talk out of turn.”

As a teacher, she picked up a few tricks on how to deal with the unruly. When she taught at Clark High, she would whisper into a disruptive student’s ear: “Your punishment is to stay in class.”

Alderman won by 55 percent to 44 percent against Javier Trujillo, a Henderson lobbyist. Trujillo pointed out he spoke fluent Spanish, important in a school district that is increasingly Hispanic.

Alderman doesn’t speak Spanish, a lack she feels acutely. She will have an interpreter with her to talk to Hispanic parents who are not fluent in English.

But she feels she knows her constituents. “The four high schools of District D? I went to Valley, my husband went to Rancho, I taught at Clark, and I did No Child Left Behind things at Desert Pines. Things all fell into place for me to do this.”

Alderman, who retired last year as director of the office for charter schools, fills the seat vacated by Larry Mason, who is term-limited. Cranor replaces Sheila Moulton, who is also term-limited.

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