Nevada legislators solicit public input on school board appointments

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, speaks to attendees during an Interim Education Committee meeting w ...

As Nevada legislators solicited feedback from the community Tuesday about potential changes to the way school board members are chosen throughout the state, one legislator questioned what the state could do when school boards have become an “unprofessional spectacle.”

“I just don’t see how you’re going to legislate common sense behavior, expectations of a board,” Nevada Sen. Carrie Buck, R-Henderson, said.

Buck’s comments came during an Interim Education Committee meeting to discuss recommendations ahead of the next legislative session, recommendations that could include appointments for local school board members.

It wouldn’t be the first time similar reforms have been proposed at the Legislature. Last year, a bill that floated a hybrid model of both electing and appointing school board members ultimately failed to move forward.

The deliberations come as board members in some Nevada school districts have resigned en masse this year, while others have repeatedly clashed with the public as school boards have had to contend with closing and reopening schools amid the pandemic.

Chris Daly, with the Nevada State Education Association, described the atmosphere in school board meeting rooms around the state as a “powder keg.”

Several business and nonprofit stakeholders were present at Tuesday’s meeting. Representatives from the state’s two largest teachers unions also voiced their conflicting opinions on the proposed changes.

A vast majority of school boards nationwide elect their school board members, according to policy analysts with the Education Commission of the States.

NSEA believes that having democratically elected members is ultimately a better model for school boards, despite issues that have arisen over the last few years, according to Daly. “Voters sometimes like having the opportunity to vote,” he said.

But John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, said half of CCSD board meetings are currently not spent discussing policy around student outcomes.

Vellardita also referenced the Nevada State Board of Education, which transitioned from an elected board to a hybrid board with appointments. The State Board is currently comprised of 11 members, four that are elected and seven that are appointed.

“I think the fact that that board went from all elected to a hybrid model…we have today a relatively functioning Board of Education,” he said. “I think there’s value to that for this body but also for moving into the ‘23 legislative sessions.”

The Nevada Legislature meets once every two years to implement new laws and fine-tune existing legislation. Between each session, lawmakers meet in interim committees to work on specific issues, like education, and make recommendations to future legislatures.

A law passed in 2021 required the committee to conduct a study in between sessions about the composition of school boards.

“We’re not here to criticize anyone,” Committee Chair Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said. “We just want to study this issue and see if there’s things that we need to do differently here in Nevada and what we can do better.”

CCSD, the fifth-largest district in the country, has seen a rash of violent incidents on school campuses in recent months, in addition to a years long teacher shortage and lagging literacy rates throughout the district.

Anna Binder, a district parent who also sits on the district’s Audit Advisory Committee, testified during last year’s legislative session against appointing board members. But she also said Tuesday that parents had been shut out of discussions and deliberations in CCSD and that the state should step in.

“We do need oversight, we need some type of policy higher than the Board of Trustees so they can do their job efficiently,” Binder said.

Alexis Salt, a teacher at Indian Springs, also submitted a public comment during the meeting asking the state for help. Salt has recently begun circulating a petition asking for Gov. Steve Sisolak to call a special session in the Legislature to address the issue of school violence.

“The students and the staff are at their wits’ end, and it is time for the state to step in and help us,” Salt wrote in a letter to legislators Tuesday. “It is my sincere fear that if you do not, that we will have either a student or a staff member killed. It is that dire.”

Some teachers voiced their disapproval on social media that the legislative committee meeting was scheduled at a time when teachers were unable to attend.

Sen. Denis said there may be an opportunity for the legislative committee to have a meeting in the evening for teachers to attend in the future. The committee is not set to vote on any formal bill language until its final meeting in August.

In a statement posted during the meeting, NSEA said that, while it didn’t support an appointment process for school board members, it was asking for other reforms, like a statewide code of conduct for school board trustees.

“If you wanna go somewhere and end up in the right place, you don’t just get in your car and drive in any direction. You need a direction to go in and then drive,” Daly said. “I’m hoping that we can figure out what direction we want to go in before we take off and go on a joyride.”

“We’re here today because we’re trying to figure that out,” Sen. Denis said.