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COMMENTARY: Nevada at crossroads on education

The June 14 article “Cuts provoke parents” missed a great opportunity to bring some clarity to a highly complex issue. Yes, it did tell readers about concerns for student safety expressed by various parents. It also mentioned the vote of “no confidence” for Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara taken by 71 principals and discussed Mr. Jara’s apology for the manner in which he announced the elimination of 170 dean positions.

But with the exception of the last small paragraph, the story failed to discuss Mr. Jara’s rationale for making the decision he did.

Clearly, given choices that include eliminating the deans’ positions or cutting transportation services for students, eliminating all athletic programs, cutting highly popular magnet programs, closing down performing arts schools such the Las Vegas Academy or cutting out music programs, Mr. Jara’s decision seems pretty sound.

I wonder how employees or parents would have responded if he had chosen any of those other options? Can you imagine?

No, my friends, the problem was not created by Mr. Jara. Rather it ultimately rests with the Legislature, governors and the voting public.

Nevada has always been caught up in a “pay me now, pay me later” mentality when it comes to funding education. Despite three decades of census data documenting that the student population in the state was growing phenomenally beginning in the late 1980s, very little was done to increase funding for old school replacement, maintaining existing structures, increasing teacher pay, prioritizing English language instruction, etc. The political philosophy was basically, “Do what you can to keep it going, but do it without raising too many taxes.”

That “pay me now, pay me later” mentality has brought us to where we are today.

Today, it will take a $1 billion just to keep the schools and buildings that already exist in decent shape. As well, it will take another $1 billion to ensure that employees are paid fairly, that employees have adequate health care and that students and teachers have the resources they need to improve learning. And the worst part is that the more we delay in addressing these and many other pressing education-related issues, the more the infrastructure will deteriorate and the more costs will rise. Every good businessperson will tell you that.

Ultimately, whether we will ever have the courage and commitment to provide the funds needed to really improve education in Nevada will remain a big question mark. What isn’t in question is the embarrassing history of education funding and educational achievement in this state.

Tom Rodriguez is the Clark County School District’s former executive manager for diversity and affirmative action programs. He writes from Henderson.

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