A Western aficionado, Jim Rogers decorates his office with saddles, antique firearms and paintings of cowboys and Indians riding horses through desolate landscapes.
So it seems fitting that the philanthropist would use an Old West metaphor to explain what he thinks is wrong with the Clark County School District and its search for a new superintendent.
"I think the circle-the-wagons mentality has got to go away," Rogers, the 71-year-old former chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, said in an interview Wednesday. "I think it … leads to promoting from within, and promoting from within is a bad idea."
Rogers said the Clark County School Board should not let itself be "stampeded" into picking a permanent successor for Superintendent Walt Rulffes, who has announced he’ll be leaving when his contract expires Aug. 30.
So convinced is Rogers of this that he has offered to work for free as an interim superintendent, though that would be at odds with School Board President Terri Janison’s desire to avoid hiring an interim superintendent for the sake of "continuity and consistency" within the district. The current superintendent earns $277,000 annually.
The School Board is scheduled tonight to approve a request for proposals for private contractors to conduct the candidate search. Included in the search criteria is a timeline that has the School Board interviewing candidates by October and having the next superintendent start work as soon as Dec. 1.
Under such a scenario, the new superintendent would be hired without the support of possibly three School Board members because three board seats will be decided in the November elections.
Because of the ambitious timeline, some School Board candidates such as Martin Dean Dupalo have accused the current board of trying "to short circuit" the selection process. Dupalo believes the board will ultimately pick a district insider for the job.
Janison said she supports a national search but wants to hire a superintendent as soon as possible for the benefit of schoolchildren and district employees.
Rogers believes the School Board is "a touch naive, but I don’t mean stupid" about the way it’s conducting the superintendent search.
Under the timeline, it’s very unlikely that a superintendent from another school district would quit in the middle of a school year to work in Clark County, he said. Outside candidates would be in a better position to start in the summer.
Even if the new superintendent could start in December, it would not give him or her much time to lobby state lawmakers on behalf of K-12 education, with the Legislative session starting in February.
"The problem is, the longer you wait to get somebody in to talk to legislators, the worse off you are," Rogers said.
The skill sets of a chief executive officer are very different from the skills of an associate superintendent or somebody who handles operations within the system, Rogers said.
He views the superintendent as an "outside person" or education advocate who engages the public.
As the former chancellor, Rogers said he "was speaking to 500 to 1,000 people a week."
As interim superintendent, Rogers said he would remind parents of their own responsibilities in educating their children. Too many children come to school unprepared to learn, Rogers said.
"I have felt for a long time that until there’s a culture change in parenting, the schools will always be restricted or impaired in what they can do," he said.
"I think the mentality in academia is that they’re not really aggressive, and they tend to not want to fight openly," he added.
Rogers would not dither in settling union contracts, either. Currently, none of the four unions representing district employees has come to terms for the 2010-11 school year.
"These are things I don’t understand," Rogers said. "If you have three or four issues, why do you keep talking over and over and over again?
"They should be able to be resolved. Everybody knows what the problems are," he said.
With 38,500 employees and a budget of $2.1 billion, the beleaguered school district faces the possible loss of 1,077 jobs and a budget shortfall of $140 million for the next school year.
Since announcing his interest in becoming an interim superintendent about two weeks ago, Rogers said he has talked only with School Board Vice President Carolyn Edwards, but no job offer or commitment was made.
As the owner of KVBC, the local NBC affiliate, Rogers said he would not "dare talk to Terri Janison, because her husband (weatherman Kevin Janison) works for me."
Rogers said he finds himself in a "peculiar position."
"It’s tough to let them (the School Board) know you really want the job without them thinking you’re hustling for the job," he said.
His offer to the School Board is essentially the same deal he had with the Board of Regents when he worked as chancellor of higher education for a dollar a year for five years. Like the state universities, the school system would benefit from his independence as a wealthy philanthropist.
"The thing I brought to the (higher education) system was credibility because nobody thought I could be bought," Rogers said. "They thought I could be persuaded, but I couldn’t be bullied. They thought if I told somebody something, they thought it would be the truth, and not half the truth. That’s what needs to happen in the Clark County School District."
Rogers said he’s not out to "clean house," noting that he left the university system intact when he was the chancellor.
"As far as me going in with a big sickle to cut everybody’s head off — I’ve never done that in my life," Rogers said.
Rogers, who has served on the boards of 15 major universities, said he is not motivated by anything other than his interest in education. His 94-year-old mother, Lucille Rogers, was a long-time educator who has an elementary school named after her in Las Vegas.
"I think it’s darn near genetic why I like education," he said.
If appointed, he would like to serve from September to June of 2011. This would allow the board to take its time in selecting a new superintendent. Rogers would also have time to "educate" state lawmakers and the governor about K-12 needs in Nevada.
"I think anybody who believes this state’s problems won’t be solved without money simply isn’t being realistic," Rogers said. "I think anybody who thinks problems can be solved with only more money is being delusional. It’s going to require tremendous cultural changes."
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-374-7907.