Accountability Would Go a Long Way Toward Fixing Education

If you’re a believer in good education for all Nevadans, you’ve been going through rough times—meaning that all of us have been going through rough times.

&#149 Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones ran into criticism from the school board and didn’t take it very well. Jones asked the trustees to hire his consultant and special assistant, Ken Turner, for a third year at $250,000 per year. He also has received two $50,000 “relocation” payments, which is a lot of money for a lot of relocating. Like Jones, Turner came from Colorado, where he was Jones’s deputy. The good news is that Turner’s salary comes from The Lincy Foundation and the UCLA Dream Fund (next year to be funded by the Windsong Trust).

The bad news is that the district says he’s needed because “A generation of kids has been failed by this district. Mr. Jones cannot do this alone.” Indeed he can’t: he gets the use of a secretary who is paid $65,000 a year, which happens to be more than is paid to many of the teachers who, the district says, have been failing their students. (Thank goodness the arbitrator ruled against pay hikes for teachers; only Super Bowl quarterbacks make higher salaries). Maybe if the district seriously asked the teachers what could be done to fix things, it could not only solve problems, but also save itself and others the money paid to the consultant.

&#149 The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Truckee Meadows Community College president Maria Sheehan had been a finalist for chancellor of Arizona’s Pima Community College until the search committee there learned that she had been chief executive of Desert Community College District in California during a period when the district “improperly and knowingly claimed excess state apportionment funding” of more than $5 million.

Sheehan said she had nothing to do with it and simply looked to hire the best people and let them do their jobs. Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said he talked with Sheehan and had his counsel read the audit report that found the problem, “and I am convinced Dr. Sheehan had no part in any fraudulent activities.” Asked whether she should have known what was up, he said, “Honestly, I thought about that, and with the number of documents that come across the desk of a president and the number of things going on in that office, it is impossible to know everything.” Especially about corruption, goodness knows.

&#149 This Friday, the Assembly Ways & Means and Senate Finance Committees will hear about the higher education budget from Klaich, who has come up with a different funding formula that has had to be tweaked several times. The tweaks include extra money slid toward UNR to help its buildings, to UNLV for research, to CSN for whatever reason and to the rural colleges to make up for some of what they will lose under the new funding formula. Other than that, things are just fine.

Whether they will be entirely fine is up to the committees. In the last session, then-State Senate majority leader Steven Horsford almost became the first Nevada legislator in outer space when he couldn’t get a detailed breakdown of the budget, instead of general information. He demanded a detailed budget, but instead received a mish-mash of spreadsheets. Now he’s gone. Will his colleagues continue his probing due diligence?

Due diligence is a precious commodity, especially when you compare NSHE with the school district. Recently, the regents explained that they couldn’t question what was going on within institutions because their job isn’t to worry about such things. That’s partly true: when media magnate Jim Rogers was chancellor, the regents changed the rules so that he could fire college and university presidents and in doing so absolved themselves from any real responsibility.

But consider that NSHE has hired a consultant at about the six-figure mark to tell the system what to do about online education without worrying about what was already going on within the system, and CSN has brought in consultants to tell faculty and staff how to help students graduate (maybe having more staff to help them graduate would do more than hiring consultants to try to figure that out).

Many would-be educational reformers say the solution to our problem isn’t to throw money at education. Fair enough. How about we try allocating enough money and then do real audits and evaluations of those who spend the money for a change? Whatever money we as taxpayers put into education (and some of what you put into it pays my salary) really should be watched closely, don’t you think? The word is accountability, and we aren’t seeing much of a desire for it from the administrators described above.

So, it’s up to your legislators–and to you. And when the next scandal comes along and you complain about the use and abuse of your money, just remember, you could do something about it. Will you?