Friday, Sept. 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
State Sen. Michael Roberson is a rising star in the Republican Party.
He caught the attention of conservatives during his first legislative session this year with tough rhetoric attacking teachers unions and a Clark County School District he said was bloated with personnel who aren’t in the classroom. In fact, he offered legislation that would have mandated 65 percent of education money go to classrooms.
As it happens, the School District received a report recently from Gibson Consulting Group recommending $162 million in efficiency savings over five years, money that could be put toward classroom instruction. One of the cost-saving measures that would reap $1.8 million per year would eliminate the position of “theme coordinator” and “recruiting counselor” at the district’s magnet schools.
That’s the job title of Liberty Leavitt Roberson, Roberson’s wife, who works at Advanced Technologies Academy.
Karen Diamond, the principal of A-Tech, told me that Leavitt Roberson was “extraordinary in the classroom” before taking her current position to recruit students to the magnet school and help represent A-Tech to the community. (Kudos to Diamond and her staff — the school was recently awarded a “Blue Ribbon” by the U.S. Education Department for academic achievement, an honor it shares with just 70 other schools nationwide.)
Diamond said Leavitt Roberson spends the bulk of her time with students even though she’s not in the classroom. In addition to recruiting for the school, she runs a student service program. The more than 70 students in the program perform volunteer work and serve as ambassadors for the school. They tutor students after school, including children with cancer and children at other Clark County schools, while performing other service projects. Leavitt Roberson was named volunteer of the year by the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.
Leavitt Roberson, who comes from a prominent Nevada family, made $48,076 in pay plus benefits in 2010, according to TransparentNevada, a database of public employee salaries.
“I love Liberty, and I would love to keep her,” Diamond told me.
So how about it, Michael Roberson?
Roberson took his usual tough line: “If critics of me want to take on my wife, they ought to put on their big-boy pants and take me on directly.”
Apropos of what, I’m not certain, but Roberson attacked the teachers union: “The teachers union are schoolyard bullies. They don’t care about the children of this state. They care about protecting adult professional jobs.”
Roberson, the product of a fine public-university education from the University of Kansas and its law school, voted against the final tax and budget package this year that extended taxes scheduled to sunset. Not extending the taxes would have required significant cuts to education, higher education and Medicaid.
As for the auditor’s report, Roberson said, “It’s in line with my proposed bill, which forces more available dollars into the classroom and into areas where you have a direct relationship with students. There are 350 education bureaucrats making six figures. Most had no direct relationship with the kids. I believe Superintendent (Dwight) Jones is changing that, and that’s a good thing.”
There aren’t 350 education bureaucrats making six figures. There were 299 in 2009 and 285 in 2010. (But hey, if his accuracy were a batting average, he’d be the best hitter ever.)
Roberson expressed support for Jones. “I think Superintendent Jones should be given wide leeway in implementing reform, and he should be supported. I’m going to do everything I can to support him. I will be getting together with him to see how I can help him in Carson City.”
The legislative session ended four months ago. One would think someone claiming to be such a dedicated education reformer would have already met with Jones, who by all accounts is a hard-charging reformer in his own right.
Roberson’s failure to do so to this point has me wondering if he is less interested in the fortunes of the School District than he is in sloganeering and fueling his political ambitions.
Oh, no, of course that can’t be true.