The debate between gubernatorial candidates Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval finished where it started Sunday night, with Reid accusing Sandoval of being a weak leader who would cut education by $533 million and Sandoval ignoring his opponent's attempts to put him off his main message that he would improve schools by creating more competition and accountability.
"I started this debate off with a strong accusation. I said that Brian was not a strong leader," Reid said in closing remarks after the hour-long debate. "I'm afraid there are two Brian Sandovals."
Reid said that during the Republican primary, Sandoval proposed Draconian budget cuts, but more recently delivered an education plan in which he made a lot of promises for improvements without saying how he would pay for them all.
"You can't do all the nice things he said he would do," Reid charged, calling on Sandoval to explain his budget figures.
Sandoval ignored the challenge and instead ended the combative face-off by promising to make education a top priority.
"Education is incredibly important to me both on a personal level and for the people of the state of Nevada," Sandoval said before launching into another summary of his education plan that calls for more local control, open enrollment to let students attend any school and an end to teacher tenure. "My plan calls for real accountability... I will work hard every day to improve education here in the state of Nevada."
Earlier, the two men clashed on how to improve individual schools, with Sandoval wanting to generate more competition by allowing students to attend so-called magnet schools and other speciality institutions that offer better programs to meet individual needs.
"The frustration is there are people waiting in line" to attend the best schools, Sandoval said. "I think we have to have open enrollment to give people a choice."
But Reid said that sort of open enrollment system could leave poorer students and poorer schools behind.
"The problem with empowerment is it doesn't empower enough people," Reid said, adding that he's offering a better solution that would allow parents and teachers to get together and decide how to improve education programs. "My plan would allow every school in Nevada to be on that model."
On the issue of class size, both men suggested local control by schools is the best solution.
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Rory Reid came out swinging Sunday in the gubernatorial debate with Brian Sandoval, accusing his Republican opponent of being a "weak leader" who would cut education by as much as $533 million. Sandoval returned the jab, saying Reid wasn't telling the truth.
"My opponent has misled all of you with regard to my education plan," Sandoval said as the two debated side by side from twin black podiums on stage at Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a public charter school. "Nowhere, nowhere in my plan does it call for the layoff of a single teacher."
Reid dismissed Sandoval's education plan, calling it a "Hallmark card. It sounds real nice but there's not much substance there."
"Brian Sandoval is a nice man, but he's a weak leader," Reid said at the start of the debate.
"On education, Brian is not strong and he's not consistent," Reid continued in his opening statement. "He even supports Sharron Angle, who would abolish the Education Department."
Sandoval didn't directly address the issue of Angle, the Republican opponent of Reid's father, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Instead, Sandoval defended his education plan, saying it would give more local control to schools, end teacher tenure and provide more accountability and school choice.
Not satisfied, Reid became more aggressive and twice held up a piece of paper with the $533 million figure on it and challenged Sandoval.
"Here's the number. If this isn't the right number, how much are you going to cut?" Reid asked.
Sandoval shook his head and smiled, and launched into why he thinks Reid's plan actually would cut education spending.
"You don't know your own budget plan," Sandoval said to Reid.
Sandoval said Reid's plan could cut education spending by $200 million because 70 percent of the state's payroll is for teachers and Reid wants to cut back on total spending for state workers.
"Your proposal includes a dramatic cut in education," Sandoval charged.
Reid shook his head. "Well, Brian, I don't know where you're getting your numbers."
Those watching the debate inside the gym at the Agassi Preparatory Academy included married tennis greats Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf and education activist and philanthropist Elaine Wynn. The gym was full, with seating on the floor for about 150 people. Dozens of academy students sat in the bleachers as well.
Paula Francis and Dave Courvoisier of Channel 8 moderated the debate.
Gubernatorial candidates Republican Brian Sandoval and Democrat Rory Reid will engage in their first formal debate at 6 p.m. Sunday in Las Vegas.
Reid is hoping the live, televised encounter will get him some much-needed attention as he runs far behind Sandoval in the polls. The debate is competing for viewers with the Emmy Awards and preseason NFL football.
The one-hour debate is supposed to focus on education. Nevada ranks poorly on almost every list on education, with low graduation rates, high dropout rates and per-pupil spending that lags behind the national average. Both gubernatorial candidates have proposed detailed plans to improve schools.
Reid's education plan would expand Nevada's empowerment program, allowing principals more autonomy to manage their own school budgets. It also would focus on teacher accountability for student performance and use factors other than test scores to measure school performance. Those factors could include the percentage of students who enroll in college or the number of arts programs the school offers.
Sandoval's education plan centers on school accountability as well. Under his plan, schools would be awarded grades based on student performance. Schools that get higher grades would get financial incentives. Low-grade schools would get more training and development assistance. Sandoval's plan would also expand school choice, making it easier for parents to transfer their children to higher performing schools.
Sandoval, a former federal judge, is running ahead of Reid, who is chairman of the Clark County Commission and the son of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic incumbent who is fighting a close battle to retain his congressional seat against GOP challenger Sharron Angle. The latest Mason-Dixon survey shows Sandoval with 53 percent support compared with 31 percent for Reid.
The debate is co-sponsored by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 8NewsNOW, Vegas PBS and the Agassi Preparatory Academy.
The debate was scheduled to re-air on Vegas PBS, Channel 10, at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sunday, and again at 3 a.m. Monday.