The Clark County School District will bring in outside lobbyists to represent its interests during the 2019 session of the Nevada Legislature, a move that has some trustees concerned about the loyalty of the outsiders.
Word of the plan to rely on the hired guns in Carson City emerged Wednesday at a meeting to work on defining the district’s legislative goals.
During past sessions, the district’s lobbying needs have been met by staff lobbyists and an associate superintendent who oversaw the government relations department. But new Superintendent Jesus Jara has eliminated the associate superintendent job and, while he is interviewing candidates for an open director job in the department, the bulk of the lobbying will fall to an outside firm.
The process for finding a lobbying firm is ongoing, and the district has issued a request for proposal for companies. Once proposal come in, they will be evaluated and the finalists interviewed.
The move might produce cost savings, and officials are hopeful that a hired lobbyist’s possible connections with lawmakers could have other benefits for the district.
But not all trustees were convinced.
“Where’s the loyalty to the school district?” Trustee Linda Young asked via teleconference. “I have a little bit of concern about that.”
Trustee Chris Garvey also wanted to be sure that a lobbying firm’s other clients wouldn’t create a conflict of interest with the district’s interests.
District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said those factors would be considered when weighing the applicants.
Trustees are whittling down which topics they would like to focus on for the two allocated bills that the district can introduce in the 2019 legislative session, a continuation of a conversation that began in June under former Superintendent Pat Skorkowksy.
Trustees did not come to a consensus Wednesday about which topics to pursue but will meet in August and must make a decision then to meet state deadlines.
Trustees and district staff are playing a game of strategy, trying to decide which topics lawmakers will bring forward and which topics they should take up to avoid repetition. On Wednesday, they also debated what kind of requests they should focus on: smaller, policy changes or big, costly overhauls of programs and funding formulas.
For example, Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, has said he will sponsor a bill to make some changes to the state’s Read by Grade 3 initiative. The program aims to require students to read proficiently at the end of third grade or force them to repeat the grade level.
Staff said it wouldn’t make sense for the school district to also sponsor a bill on the topic, and recommended that staff and lobbyists instead work with Thompson on his bill, staff said.
Other issues weren’t so clear cut. Trustees indicated they want to make changes to a bill passed in the last session that provides weighted funding for certain categories of students and is commonly referred to as SB 178, the bill number.
Trustees want more money to go into that program to cover all the students who meet qualifications, and they also want to create a better way for schools to exit the program, instead of abruptly losing the money when student scores increase, as occurs now.
But it’s unclear right now whether any lawmakers are planning to take up that topic next year, leaving the district guessing whether it should make that one of its two priorities.
In the past, CCSD has steered cleared of using its bill requests for topics that were certain to be controversial and costly, said Searer, instead preferring to focus on smaller policy changes.
But it may be time for something new, board President Deanna Wright said.
“I understand that, but we’ve been burned in these sessions before,” she said.