It’s all about the kids. Yeah. Right.
It’s likely the most under-appreciated elected position in our community and yet it has the most direct influence over our children’s lives.
In 2014, the Washoe County School Board had a very bad year. Its trustees were caught up in a controversy of their own making when they ousted Superintendent Pedro Martinez, incurring the wrath of the business sector, Latino organizations and many parents. It all stemmed from a one-day emotional debacle on July 22 with little regard for transparency and the open meeting law, resulting in a $500,000 separation agreement with Martinez and hefty personal fines for trustees.
Now it’s time for voters in District C and District F to choose their representatives on the school board for the next four years. Unfortunately, the controversy has overshadowed the most pressing issues in public education: bottom-of-the-barrel funding, school safety, and ensuring our children are prepared for the future.
In District C, voters will choose between the incumbent president of the school board, Barbara Clark, and her challenger, Nick Smith.
Clark has been demonized by defenders of Martinez, including the Reno Gazette-Journal, for her role in the fiasco. She refuses to talk about the details, citing the mediated agreement between Martinez and the school board to avoid “maligning” each other.
Meanwhile, we don’t know much about Nick Smith beyond his graduation from a local high school in 2004. He does have two young children attending school in the district, and a job as the manager of a Sizzler restaurant.
As the board president, Clark bears extra responsibility for the actions taken on July 22 and the costly aftermath. It’s disturbing that her comments don’t seem to indicate she’s taken responsibility for her role in the madness. She’s defensive and emotional, insisting “the day got out of control for both parties.”
At the same time, the self-righteous indignation of business leaders is offensive, as they throw a never-ending collective tantrum, following Clark to voter forums to verbally harangue her. They threaten to fund a recall effort if voters don’t follow their directive and boot Clark out. They’re backing Smith for no discernable reason except that he’s not Clark.
The Reno Gazette-Journal has sided with the Chamber of Commerce, calling—in a front-page editorial—for the six members of the School Board involved in the debacle to resign and dedicating their coverage of the election to this one issue.
In a recent article profiling the four candidates, the picture of Michonne Ascuaga nagging Clark at a candidate forum is more than twice as big as the candidates’ photos. The article focuses heavily on the open meeting controversy, neglecting to mention the candidates’ stands on issues of major importance to public education. Charter schools, vouchers, capital needs, collective bargaining, bullying, school violence, sex education, common core—none of these issues are mentioned, much less the candidates’ positions on any of them.
In District F, the choice is clearer. Veronica Frenkel is a strong candidate with a relevant background and a daughter in the district. She’s run a solid campaign, offering sophisticated positions on school safety, workforce readiness and student achievement.
Former County Commissioner and Sparks City Council member Jim Shaw is the other candidate in District F. He has a long local history as a professional educator and elected official but has said little about any issue of significance in education.
If I lived in District F, I’d happily vote for Frenkel, and give the School Board some much needed new energy from a tenacious and articulate education advocate.
If I lived in District C, even though I’m disappointed in her leadership, I’d choose Clark over Smith. I’d vote against the business bullies and their arrogant attitude that only they know what’s best for our kids.