Speech causes groans among teachers

Teachers and union activists who gathered to watch the governor’s State of the State address resembled a Super Bowl party with their big-screen TV, deli sandwiches and occasional jeers.

At the southeast valley office of the Nevada State Education Association on Monday, a collective groan, much like the one sounded Sunday by Indianapolis Colts fans, moved through the crowd when Gov. Jim Gibbons said that it’s time to stop whining that education in Nevada doesn’t work because of a lack of funding.

Gibbon’s proposal for "education gift certificates," donations from the public for teacher salaries, drew a cynical "Thank you very much" from educators who said they’re being made to feel like charity cases.

"I think what the governor meant is that he wants to put us on the list of United Way," said Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association.

Because of the state’s $881 million deficit, Gibbons is calling for 10 percent cuts to most state agencies, including public education and higher education. Educators fear the cuts will cause mass layoffs or salary cuts that will cripple Nevada schools, colleges and universities.

In his speech, Gibbons said that funding education is a core function of state government and accounts for 54 percent of all general fund spending. But the state will be unable to resolve its deficit if "half of that budget is off the table."

Lynne Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said she was disappointed that the governor’s speech was so one-dimensional.

"We’re looking at a dark time for education if we don’t have a more balanced conversation about how we fund our education," Warne said. "All we have heard is cuts, but let’s have a conversation about revenue as well."

Don Lucente, an English teacher at Palo Verde High School, said the state has missed opportunities to tax one obvious industry.

"Mining is the glaring issue most of us seem to have a problem with," Lucente said.

Lucente criticized Gibbons for asking public workers to take pay cuts to prevent massive layoffs.

"I think the governor is posing a false choice between educators’ jobs and salaries," he said. "He’s trying to make us feel guilty and pit us against one and another."

Clark County School Board President Terri Janison said the governor’s speech was "confusing" because he often followed his praise for public education with a negative comment.

Janison said she liked his ideas about loosening state mandates over local districts, but she thought the governor lacked an appreciation for the importance of investing in public education.

"You want to bring in businesses, yet you don’t want to support education," Janison said. "It’s really hard for me to swallow."

Chris Wallace, president of the Nevada Board of Education, said the governor seems to think education is something "that makes people feel good" but isn’t all that necessary.

James Dean Leavitt, chairman of Nevada’s Board of Regents, which governs higher education, was disappointed that Gibbons "didn’t touch much on higher education."

Leavitt said, "I was a little surprised by that. He didn’t make the connection between economic diversification and education. … That’s one of the first things a business looks at, the quality of the work force."

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

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