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School board hopefuls prioritize budget, student success

The six candidates vying for three seats on the Clark County School Board agree on many topics in public education, from retail marijuana tax revenue to improving employee morale.

But how do they propose solving the district’s biggest challenges?

Here is a look at each of the candidates in Districts D, F and G:

District D

Canyon Springs High School graduate Irene Cepeda said she was frequently upset that students in her area — which encompasses impoverished areas in the central part of the valley — are not given a quality education.

“Seeing some of the behaviors of the person who’s currently in this role, I think I’m more experienced, more qualified,” she said.

Cepeda, a political newcomer vying to unseat incumbent Trustee Kevin Child, wants to strengthen board governance and budget accountability. She also wants to spend more time talking about student achievement — and not, for example, about the travel scandal that surrounded Board President Deanna Wright leaving a Florida conference early to go to Disney World.

“It’s just those things where, again, why are we talking about this?” she said. “Why is this an issue that continues to take up all our time, when we could be talking about success, outcomes?”

Cepeda took some heat from Child for changing her last name from Zepeda to Cepeda before she filed for office.

While critics say the move was meant to give her an advantage by putting her at the top of the ballot, she claims it was meant to honor family — particularly her mother, who passed away five years ago.

“I saw that our family on my dad’s side moved from Spain, and their last name was a “C” and when they came to Nicaragua (it was) with a ‘Z,’” she said. “To me it was kind of a tribute to our heritage, our history.”

Meanwhile, in his first term on the board, Child has stressed financial accountability.

He wants to get the budget straight, increase student achievement and change the rough relationship the district has with its bargaining groups. He said he would love to see district employees become state employees.

“If they’re going to give us the raises for them and they’re worried about the money we give them, they need to give the money to them,” he said of the state. “That way we cut out the middleman.”

Child said the board should be focused on achievement and not giving raises to big executives. He has frequently voted with the minority on the board, Trustees Chris Garvey and Linda Young, all of whom rejected giving a raise to CFO Jason Goudie.

“You don’t spend money you don’t have, especially if you’ve been cutting in the last three years millions of dollars,” Child said. “Then you’re telling everybody you’re broke and then the morale goes down.”

Child has had a contentious first term, running into conflict with former Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who tried to restrict Child’s access to schools. An internal investigation concluded that Child created a hostile environment, particularly for female employees.

The Review-Journal has reported that the School Board later approved a settlement for former Deputy Superintendent Kim Wooden over a harassment complaint against the district stemming from Child’s behavior.

Child has since sued Wooden and other trustees — alleging defamation and claiming that complaints against him were all contrived — but said he can work with fellow trustees despite his legal battle against them.

“To me it’s about doing our job and doing it right and being about the kids,” he said. “That’s what I focus on.”

District F

In District F, which represents the southwest part of the valley, business owner Danielle Ford is using her experience as a high-school dropout as a basis of her platform.

Before she left Cimarron-Memorial High School in her junior year, she said, nobody noticed she was on track to do so.

“That’s one of the things that fuels me — to represent kids like me,” said Ford, a mom of two Clark County students.

Ford notes that the top challenges facing the district are misuse of funds and a lack of proper funding. Other issues, she said, fall under that financial category: the shortage of teachers, overcrowded classrooms and unhappy educators.

She considers herself an outsider in this race, arguing that opponent Kali Fox Miller was “pre-selected.” Yet Ford is set on breaking the political deadlock that plagues the board.

“I do not succumb to peer pressure; I’ve always been a lone wolf,” she said. “I will always make decisions based on my own research and ultimately what is the right thing to do.”

Ford, who has a YouTube channel geared toward teen mothers, received criticism over a YouTube video entitled “How to be sexy” that tells viewers to be confident.

Ford has also embraced a few of her modeling photos, which garnered criticism.

“I totally support women loving their bodies,” she said. “There’s nothing on there I would not want my children to see.”

Fox Miller wants to allow communities back in school and accept outside help.

“We’ve got to get back to a place where we are open and we are transparent and we accept the help we need,” she said.

To avoid another deficit, Fox Miller said, the district needs to look at studies that have been completed and implement some of those suggestions.

“We have so many studies, audits and reports and I don’t know if we’ve taken up any of the recommendations,” she said.

District G

In the eastern part of the valley, Trustee Linda Cavazos is running to keep the seat she was appointed to last year.

Her priority is changing the state’s education funding formula, but she is also concerned about school safety and boosting staff morale.

“Support staff are at a very, very low morale right now, and I believe that one of the keys is that we have to be able to be on kind of an equitable level with all the employee groups,” she said.

Cavazos has been in the majority side of the frequent 4-3 split, typically voting with Trustees Deanna Wright, Carolyn Edwards and Lola Brooks.

Newcomer Ryan Scalia said he was spurred to run after seeing the frustration from his friends who are district employees.

“The more that I looked into the School Board itself, I’ve seen this kind of 4-3 split that keeps coming up constantly, and I want to help break that up and make sure that they’re voting for what’s best for the constituents instead of what lies along their party line,” he said.

Scalia’s priorities include fixing the district finances, school safety and increasing the graduation rate. He believes the district is top-heavy and hopes to look over school budgets to get rid of any duplicated costs.

“We’re throwing a lot of our money and resources into top-level people that aren’t going to really make the difference,” he said. “And it’s costing the students because you’re having staff members and teachers who are basically leaving the profession.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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