The Clark County School District is pushing back against a bill advancing during this year’s legislative session that would create hybrid school boards.
The Senate Committee on Education held a hearing last week on Assembly Bill 175, which would change the makeup of Clark County’s board to have elected and appointed members.
In addition to seven elected members, the bill calls for four nonvoting members appointed by local municipalities: one by Clark County and one each by the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.
The full Assembly passed the bill in a 29-11 vote April 21. If the legislation becomes law, the changes would apply to school districts with more than 75,000 students — currently, only Clark County.
The school district strongly opposes the bill, which “seeks to experiment on the school-aged children in Southern Nevada by imposing a non-evidence-based board structure that puts adult issues and power struggles ahead of the needs of kids,” the district’s Director of Government Relations Patricia Haddad told legislators during a May 8 hearing.
The atmosphere on the Clark County School Board has been contentious in recent years, with frequent 4-3 split votes, and at times, explosive arguments among trustees.
Groups in support of the bill include the Clark County Education Association, city of Henderson, Vegas Chamber, Retail Association of Nevada and Council for a Better Nevada. They argue that having appointed members would bring needed expertise and professionalism to the board.
“Our schools and our community need strong leadership at the school board level,” said Nicole Rourke, director of government and public affairs for the city of Henderson. “At no time has this been more evident than now.”
Jim Frazee, a teacher and vice president of the Clark County Education Association, said that — while trustees start with the best intentions — there’s an outdated and broken governance model.
Trustees get their facts and perspective from an inept superintendent and his staff, who are “spoon-feeding trustees his version of reality,” he said.
Hybrid school boards
Sen. Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, raised concerns about the bill, including how local municipalities can provide an effective school board trustee without specific criteria or constituents selecting that member. She also questioned whether it would lead to more political drama.
Neal noted the recent Community Schools Initiative — which sought to break up the school district and instead let local municipalities form their own — an effort that failed to garner enough valid signatures.
Now, AB 175 would give those municipalities the power to select a representative.
School Board member and former assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, who said it had been about 120 days since her swearing-in ceremony, told legislators that she could say with confidence that she had witnessed movement in the right direction, “especially in the priority areas that you want to see evolution on.”
Other groups such as the Nevada State Education Association and Power2Parent also oppose the bill.
In a May 6 letter to legislators, Nicole Bengochea — president of the Nevada Association of School Boards — wrote that while the bill is specific to Clark County, “school board trustees in every district find this legislation to be problematic.”
The letter is signed by school board members from across the state, including all seven Clark County School Board trustees, who are opposed to the legislation.
School board members say it erodes democracy, provides unequal representation, wouldn’t resolve board issues, would likely make dysfunction worse, would add partisan politics to a nonpartisan board and could lead to ethical issues since nonvoting members wouldn’t be required to disclose conflicts of interest.
No votes after midnight
The legislature is also considering Assembly Bill 423, which proposes that school boards couldn’t take action on agenda items after midnight, except in an emergency.
The Senate Committee on Education considered the bill during a Monday work session. The legislation passed the full Assembly in a 40-0 vote on April 21.
Clark County School Board President Evelyn Garcia Morales said in a Sunday letter to legislators that the board only had three meetings where action was taken past midnight.
They were in 2021, “all of them being the result of extensive public comment,” she wrote.
During one of them, the board heard more than five hours of public comments before approving an employee COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
The other two were when a split school board voted to fire Superintendent Jesus Jara and then rehire him the following month.