Board of Education reappoints Rheault to three-year term

State schools Superintendent Keith Rheault was reappointed to a third three-year term by the Nevada Board of Education on Friday, extending his tenure to 2013.

His reappointment also was endorsed by the Nevada Association of School Superintendents.

In a time of shrinking school budgets and growing class sizes, Rheault was praised for doing more with less.

"His masterful ability to deploy his minimal staff in the most effective manner possible has been an invaluable asset to schools and the students they serve throughout the state," said Walt Rulffes, the president of the state superintendents’ association and superintendent of Clark County School District, in a letter to the state board.

Anthony Ruggiero, the president of the State Board of Education, said it would be "imprudent" to change superintendents in the midst of the state’s financial crisis. All state agencies have been asked to prepare for 1.4 percent to 3 percent budget cuts for this year and next year.

At the very least, Ruggiero said Rheault, pronounced "row," is "keeping us afloat."

Rheault, 55, oversees K-12 education, coordinating student testing and academic standards, watching over charter schools and assisting the state’s 17 local school districts.

He is paid $120,000, which is an amount set by the Legislature. His department employs about 150 workers and has an operating budget of $5 million.

As part of his evaluation, Rheault said he has learned to never take professional criticism personally. He said he realizes that education is a complex subject and that there are always "two sides to every issue."

To bolster his case, Rheault provided the board with state test scores showing improvement of 3 percentage points or greater in middle school math scores, elementary reading scores and middle school reading scores from 2008 to 2009.

This means 61.6 percent of middle school students in Nevada are performing math at grade level, 58.1 percent of elementary students are reading at grade level and 64.3 percent of middle school students are reading at grade level. All other elementary, middle and high school level groups either made gains or losses of fewer than 3 percentage points in their test scores for reading, math, and writing.

Nevada, however, has one of the lower high school graduation rates in the nation at 68.7 percent. Student achievement by different racial or ethnic groups is unequal. For example, 75.8 percent of white students in middle schools are reading at grade level compared to about 50 percent for blacks and Hispanic students.

Because of conflicts of interest, two board members abstained from voting for Rheault’s reappointment.

Dave Cook, who represents Carson City, said he is in a relationship with someone who works for the Nevada Department of Education.

Willa Chaney, from Las Vegas, is involved in litigation against the Department of Education. She is appealing a District Court decision that her former child care center owes the department more than a half million dollars in misappropriated funds.

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