Thirteen vie for School Board post

Some of the 13 applicants for a Clark County School Board vacancy believe that increasing the governing body’s diversity should be a factor in choosing a representative for District E in the northwest valley.

Minority students account for 68 percent of the enrollment in the Clark County School District, which is the nation’s fifth-largest public school system.

The November elections and the December resignation of School Board President Terri Janison left the current board with six female members, one of whom is black. Former School Board member Larry Mason, who is Hispanic, was prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.

Applicant Loren Piel thinks the board would benefit from adding a male voice to the group.

“It always helps to have different perspectives when you’re doing problem solving,” Piel said. “Whether it’s gender or educational background or work experience, I think to have a broad representation helps.”

UNLV administrator Jose Melendrez, a Mexican American, said he understands the need for diversity on both a “professional and personal level,” and believes he could make a difference as a School Board member.

The appointee would finish the two years remaining in Janison’s term. She resigned to work for Gov. Brian Sandoval as his director of community relations.

The School Board plans to interview and possibly appoint a new member on Thursday. In interviews with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, applicants explained what they could offer the School Board.

John Cole, 51, business consultant

Cole joked that “I’m a white Irish-Catholic and one-sixteenth Sioux Indian if that helps” in his bid for the board position.

“To be honest, diversity is important,” Cole said. “But I would be far more concerned about competency, especially going into this budget cycle, than I would about ethnicity.”

Cole, a member of the district’s Bond Oversight Committee, would bring a business acumen to the board. Cole has a bachelor’s degree in operations management and master’s degree in business administration from Eastern Illinois University. He was chief financial officer for Walker Furniture and served as both the chief operating officer and chief financial officer for the Fremont Street Experience.

Cole said he realizes “the board’s job is not daily operations, but to set a strategic direction for the district as a whole.” He said he would help the board to understand the “financial issues” because he has faced many of the same issues as a business executive.

Steve Greco, 51, former School Board candidate

Greco ran unsuccessfully for the School Board in 2008. His attitude is “I’m tired of dealing with it ; let’s fix it.”

Greco said the solution to the budget crisis is obvious — increase the gaming tax. Because of economic hard times, he did not think other taxpayers could afford an increase.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “You can’t raise property taxes, you can’t raise sales tax. You can’t raise small business tax. Guys, it’s time to go to the casinos. They’re the biggest and only player in Southern Nevada.”

Greco, who has Italian roots, also said, “We as a School Board have to come up with a plan to spend that money effectively. That’s where the School Board has failed under the prior leadership in the 11 to 12 years I have lived here.”

He criticized the School Board for awarding new Superintendent Dwight Jones a “nice contract” before getting results.

“Before he’s paid, let’s see what he does first,” Greco said.

Greco said he works at “multiple jobs” but would not identify them, stressing only that he is employed. He has a bachelor’s degree in business and finance from Triton College in Illinois.

Suzanne Lee, 44, president of the Nevada Women’s Philanthropy

Lee thinks “economic diversification will not happen without an educated work force. Ultimately, the most important thing is to look at what goes on in a classroom and make sure the (board’s) decisions positively impact it.”

When asked whether class sizes should be reduced, Lee said, “I don’t want to say one thing in particular because it’s such a complex issue. The one thing I have learned is that the more you know, the more complex it becomes.”

Lee wants to serve on the board because “with a new superintendent, this is a time of opportunity and change. People who know me know I’m a hard worker. When I invest in something, I’m committed to it to the fullest.”

Lee is the founding director of “After School All-Stars,” which is one of the area’s largest after-school programs and serves 82,000 students. She has served on the board for the Public Education Foundation in addition to leading the non-profit Nevada Women’s Philanthropy.

She has bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in public affairs and management from Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University.

Jose Melendrez, 45, UNLV administrator

As assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Melendrez manages the Multicultural Center and researches diversity issues. The population of District E is becoming more diverse, as is the rest of Clark County, he said.

“I have been to School Board meetings where the issue has come up — how do we serve and address the current population?” Melendrez said. “I think I could be a factor.”

Last year, Melendrez served on the Superintendent’s Opportunity Advisory Council, which examined schools in high poverty areas. “That gave me an in-depth look at the challenges going on,” said Melendrez.

Melendrez has a bachelor’s degree in political science from UNLV and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan.

Eric Morelli, 38, in charge of Desert Volkswagen’s warranty department

Morelli jokes that he’s ready to “inject some testosterone” into the School Board.

“I feel like I can bring a whole new fresh perspective into that seat, being a guy, a dad and a regular Joe in the work place,” Morelli said.

Morelli doesn’t not have a college degree but has been an active parent, serving as vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Helen Smith Elementary School.

He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Nevada Assembly District 3 in 2008 and 2010. He said he’s not seeking a board position because of political reasons.

“I don’t think politics really belongs in education,” Morelli said. “My views on education are simply that people should stay involved.”

Loren Piel, 49, lawyer

Because he has a private law practice, Piel said he would bring the School Board “practical experience in running a small business.”

“I spent a lot of time trying to work with limited resources and dealing with those sorts of issues,” said Piel.

“In this environment where the School District has had massive cuts already and Governor Sandoval has proposed another 5 percent across-the-board cut, there are some real challenges,” Piel said.

Piel has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Oklahoma State University and a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

Michael David Saxe, 47, pediatric dentist

Saxe has been a pediatric dentist for 20 years in Las Vegas. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology from UNLV and a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

He has daily contact with families through his profession and is discouraged that so many kids seem to lack ambition.

“It’s a very tough world right now; it’s a hard life, their families are having a rough time, but that doesn’t mean they have to give up on themselves,” Saxe said. “I would like to see what we can do, budgetary-wise, to help these kids through their current situation.”

Saxe has provided free dental care to homeless kids and has worked with the dental community to organize services for children with cleft palate.

Saxe also said he has experience in working with budgets.

“I don’t think it’s going to get any better budget-wise (for the district),” Saxe said. “It is going to get even harder. So let’s work smarter and make what we have work for everybody.”

Jose Solorio, 51, business consultant

Solorio said he “would not be going through a learning curve” if selected for the board because he served on the School Board in 1993-94 as the replacement for Mark Schofield, who resigned to become the county assessor.

” Unless you have served on the board, you don’t know what it entails,” Solorio said. “There’s a lot of time commitment and responsibility.”

Solorio would bring that experience and his background in business to the job. He has a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Solorio thinks the state needs to look at increasing education funding. When he worked in economic development for the city of Las Vegas, he said many prospective businesses were more interested in quality schools than a favorable tax rate.

Solorio said the district needs to address “misperceptions that there is waste, bloat,” and “have better communication with the community.”

Solorio also represents the Latino community on Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s Multicultural Advisory Committee. His wife, Ada Solorio, has taught middle school science for 11 years.

Y. Caryl Suzuki, 65, principal

Suzuki said, if appointed, she would have to resign from her current job as principal of Southwest Behavior Junior-Senior High School.

Suzuki said she is Japanese American and was encouraged to seek the position by the Asian community.

Suzuki would bring 45 years of experience as an educator to the School Board.

She has a bachelor’s degree in art education from the University of California, Los Angeles; a teaching credential from the University of Southern California; a master’s degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University; and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of La Verne in California.

“After being a principal at a behavioral school for eight years, there’s so much I could do,” Suzuki said. “I have seen the whole gamut of stuff.”

Alison Turner, 52, president of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association

Turner said merit should be the determining factor in choosing a School Board member.

“If it’s a guy, great, but I don’t think they should appoint a guy just to appoint a guy or a gal just to appoint a gal,” she said.

When asked about her education, Turner said she attended the University of Maryland and George Washington University but would not comment on whether she completed a college degree.

Because she is the president of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association and has served on many state and district boards, including the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education, Turner said she is on top of policy issues and reform trends.

“I believe I could contribute something from the get-go,” Turner said. “Hopefully, it would be a valuable addition to the board.”

If appointed, Turner said she plans to remain president of the Nevada PTA until July when then next president takes over. She said she would from refrain from voting on issues that present a conflict of interest.

Jacqueline Johns, preschool director

Johns declined an interview with the Review-Journal. She is the director of All Saints Day School, a kindergarten and preschool, and a former teacher in the district, according to the All Saints website.

She is a native of Chicago but has lived in Las Vegas for more than 40 years. She has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education from UNLV.

Meryl Grant, community volunteer

Grant could not be reached for comment. According to her board application, she has a degree in communications from a “major Midwestern university” but did not identify the school. She has worked with United Way to establish a resource room at Clark High School to provide neighborhood families with computer access.

Sindy Shell, teacher

Shell could not be reached for comment. According to her application, she is a native of Los Angeles who moved to Las Vegas in August. She is working toward a doctorate in education from Pepperdine University in California. Shell also has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Pepperdine, a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach, and a biology degree from Beloit College in Wisconsin.

Shell is currently teaching in a graduate program at California’s Brandman University on “organizational development and change.”

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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