Mike Noland and Ron Taylor can relate to kids who give up on school because they were once dropouts themselves.
Now they're joining the other Clark County School District B candidates -- Chris Garvey, Gaya Guymon and incumbent Ruth Johnson -- as advocates for public education.
"I know how hard it is," said Noland, who dropped out at 15, but later joined the Air Force, earned a high school equivalency degree and worked for the Clark County School District for 26 years as a custodian and building engineer.
Noland believes in learning from mistakes. He said students are not going to learn if they're not happy, noting that Nevada ranks near the bottom nationally in many areas such as graduation rates.
But Noland also sees reform coming from the bottom up. While he's not a classroom educator, he said the School Board also could profit from his experience as a school custodian.
"People on the bottom see a lot of things people on the top don't see," Noland said.
Taylor, who served in Vietnam in the 1960s, has a diverse work history.
After he was "one of the air traffic controllers fired by Ronald Reagan," he worked in a casino and later earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a master's degree in computer education from Wesley College.
He's now a middle school teacher and said he will not retire if elected to the nonpartisan School Board position. He would recuse himself from conflicts of interest, such as voting for teacher contracts.
Taylor said educators could use an advocate who's independent of both the district administration and the teachers union, the Clark County Education Association. He accuses them of working in collusion.
"There's a lot of things in the school district kept hush-hush," Taylor said.
He said one reason why the district has a teacher turnover problem is that "renegade principals" run off staff and the district does not offer adequate remedial help for struggling or inexperienced teachers.
In contrast, three-term incumbent Ruth Johnson praised the district for its professional relationships with employee unions, saying she has never gotten a phone call from a union telling her how to vote.
As a School Board member, Johnson said she has sought to keep a balanced perspective by getting community feedback through regional workshops. When making decisions, Johnson said she is never just reacting from pressure from one particular interest group.
Her experience is needed for another term because "I think it's important we have as strong leadership as possible as we go through reduction in funding," said Johnson, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Utah's Brigham Young University.
Johnson said if there is public dissatisfaction with the district, it's because it is so large.
"I think it's a natural feeling of being disconnected," she said. People, however, are more inclined to speak favorably about their own schools.
Johnson is among the public officials whose eligibility to run has been thrown into question by a Nevada Supreme Court case on the application of the state term limits law, which restricts certain public officials to 12 years of service.
Chris Garvey, a dental hygienist with a two-year degree from the College of Southern Nevada, said she decided to run because "if you don't get involved, you have no reason to complain."
Garvey said greater community involvement in the schools is essential.
"I want to make the school the hub of the community. When people own something, they respect it and want to take care of it," she said.
Garvey would use her influence as a School Board member to get more people to volunteer, especially senior citizens, who could mentor students.
She would also try to build consensus to work on school funding problems.
"Of course, we have to work with our legislators," Garvey said. "We have to broaden our base and diversify so we have stability."
Guymon did not return phone calls.
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-799-2922.