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Voters to change School Board

The Clark County School District’s year of upheaval isn’t over yet.

Three seats on the seven-member board that oversees the education program for nearly 310,000 students are up for grabs in the November elections. With two incumbents term-limited out, change is a certainty as voters are asked to decide who is best-suited to lead the nation’s fifth-largest public schools system in a time of transition and economic stress.

The winners of the Clark County School Board races in Districts D, F and G will have to grapple with significant financial issues, including expected shortfalls in state aid and local property tax revenue. They will have to forge a working relationship with a new superintendent, Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones, who has been chosen to succeed retiring Superintendent Walt Rulffes.

Only one incumbent, Board Vice President Carolyn Edwards in District F, is up for re-election. She is running on a record as a public watchdog and reformer who has questioned the necessity of hiring outside consultants, who has gotten the board to broadcast its meetings on the Internet and who has created more opportunities for public input. She wants to expand career and technical education programs if re-elected.

Edwards said she is anxious for changes to happen faster but believes the district is headed in the right direction.

Her opponent is architect Ken Small, who is running an aggressive anti-incumbent campaign for the seat, which serves the southwest valley. He is calling for "big changes" and running TV ads that show public speakers being quashed or ejected from School Board meetings.

Small, a regular public speaker, said his concerns finally might be taken seriously if he is speaking as a board member.

He thinks the board has been manipulated by district staff because School Board members do not have the knowledge or professional experience to know any better. "The big change is competent management at the top," Small said.

District G incumbent Sheila Moulton and District D incumbent Larry Mason are barred by term limits from seeking re-election, leaving those races wide open.

In District D, Javier Trujillo said he is best-qualified to serve the many Latino constituents who live in central and northeast Las Vegas because he can speak Spanish. Trujillo once coordinated the district’s mariachi music program.

His opponent is Lorraine Alderman, a former district administrator who does not speak Spanish. She does not think language is an issue because there are translators and Spanish-speaking parents want to learn English.

Alderman said she has connected to District D voters as a native Las Vegan who was in the first generation of her family to graduate from college.

Trujillo was a political organizer in Nevada for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who in 2008 considered running for president. Trujillo works as a lobbyist for the city of Henderson.

Trujillo said he has been approached "in the past to run for different seats, but my passion is with kids and education. … If I’m going to run for anything, it’s going to be the School Board."

In District G, which covers east Clark County, candidate Erin Cranor said she knows the district inside and out as a parent and a volunteer. She has served on an independent citizens committee that oversaw an audit of the district and on a district commission that approves changes in attendance zones for schools.

Unlike most School Board candidates, Cranor has refrained from criticizing the current board for rushing to select a new superintendent ahead of the November elections. Cranor is happy they did not wait to move forward with a new leader.

"I like action," Cranor said.

Her opponent, James Brooks, is a 20-year-old student at the College of Southern Nevada who graduated from Valley High School in 2008.

Because of his age, Brooks said he has to work much harder than Cranor to get voters to take him seriously, but he thinks he has a chance because he is not the establishment-backed candidate. Brooks calls Cranor "Sheila Moulton 2.0" after the incumbent who is occupying the seat.

If elected, Brooks said, he would be the hardest-working politician living "under the poverty line" because his only income would be his $9,000 annual stipend as a School Board member. He lives with his family.

The Clark County Education Association, which represents district teachers, has endorsed Cranor, Edwards and Trujillo. In 2008, the four candidates backed by the teachers union won election to the School Board.

Candidates say that support from a special-interest group does not make them beholden to their interests.

Jay Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, said it’s common for school board races to be dominated by "concentrated self-interests."

That is why cities such as Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., have their mayors appoint superintendents to govern their public school systems. Because the mayor is elected by a broad constituency, the mayor is considered to be less captive to a particular interest, Greene said.

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

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