Two educators leave Nevada’s schoolchildren far behind

Some call it spring fever. Others know it as senioritis.

It’s the spell that overcomes many students this time of year and makes it harder than usual for them to concentrate on their studies or even attend classes.

Fortunately, most muddle through. They don’t quit. And neither do their parents, teachers or school administrators.

After all, getting an education is an important responsibility, and providing an opportunity to learn for Southern Nevada’s more than 300,000 public school children is a sacred and essential trust. Improving public education is a key element to making this a better community, and accomplishing the task is a demanding duty that takes professionals who possess the courage of their convictions and are willing to fight for all our children’s future.

Apparently, Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones and state Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie didn’t get that memo. These two staggering disappointments came down with terminal spring fever and have left this community and state in an embarrassing lurch.

Guthrie came to Nevada with an expansive resume and an authoritative voice. His resignation this past week was the essence of understatement. He told the Review-Journal: “All I can say is that I submitted my resignation, and it was accepted. It was my honor to have the job. … I’m disappointed that I’m not able to continue the job.”

Hey, it’s not as if you owe Nevada’s families more than that after all his weeks of service.

At about a year in length, Guthrie’s tenure as the state schools superintendent was a certified joke. Kardashian marriages last longer. He arrived in Nevada touted as an expert on No Child Left Behind and in a dozen months managed to leave all our children behind.

Personally, I would like a straight answer about what precipitated his departure.

Then there’s Jones. Hired in October 2010 from Colorado, Jones arrived with big energy and even bigger plans to improve the nation’s fifth-largest school district. “Reform” was the byword as Jones worked to create a school ranking system and install a Nevada version of the “Colorado Growth Model.”

But when it comes to public education in the Silver State, beware of the man with the big talk and bold plans — especially if he has no roots in this community. Claiming his ailing mother needed his undivided attention, Jones resigned on short notice.

Although Jones was well compensated with a $330,000 pay-and-benefits package, for some reason members of the School Board said they would entertain upping the ante for a future superintendent. How intriguing.

In February 2011, only four months after he was hired, Jones requested two confidential advisory opinions from the Nevada Commission on Ethics. Both questions concerned elements of compensation and his job status. Jones later waived the confidentiality of the proceeding.

The first question seemed fundamental: He wanted to know whether accepting moving expenses as approved by the School Board through the Las Vegas Public Education Foundation might have violated an ethics law. The foundation set up a Superintendent’s Transitional Housing Fund on its website to raise funds for temporary housing and relocation expenses at $5,000 a month for not more than eight months. The commission determined accepting the funds in the approved manner was not a violation.

Jones also asked about his possible status as a “public officer,” which probably seems obvious. The county’s school superintendent is a public officer, right?

Wrong. After studying the applicable statutes, the commission determined Jones was technically not a public officer and, therefore, wasn’t required to file a financial disclosure statement listing all his income sources.

That being the case, it would be interesting to know all Jones’ income sources. If it was enough for him to ask the commission about, it’s something we ought to be scratching our heads about in light of his sudden departure.

If that sounds cynical, well, cutting and running from thousands of our schoolchildren should engender cynicism.

Future superintendents should by law be declared “public officers” and be compelled to file financial disclosure statements. And the “transitional housing” slush fund funneled through the public education foundation should cease. (The ethics commission called the practice “poor policy and contrary to the intent of the Ethics Law. These individuals are encouraged to maintain the public trust in every instance.”)

The battle for the future of public education in Nevada is difficult and dynamic. It’s not a duty for the homesick or faint-hearted.

Our schoolchildren need fighters, not quitters.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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