Denish says she would push consolidation

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By David Giuliani

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish said this week that she would pressure the two local school districts to come to the table to talk about consolidating their administrations.

In an interview with the Optic’s editorial board, Denish said the state should provide incentives for the Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas to combine. For instance, any savings should stay within the districts, going into the classroom rather than administration.

Such a consolidation would not mean the closure of schools, said Denish, the state’s lieutenant governor.

She said the state must take measures to cut administrative costs in schools so that more resources can be invested into students’ education.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez’s campaign didn’t respond to an inquiry about her position on consolidation.

Locally, the subject of consolidation is often considered politically untouchable. Most politicos avoid the issue altogether. Even former Mayor Henry Sanchez, who often talked about unity in the community, opposed consolidation, saying the two districts had two separate cultures.

However, a few years ago, then-Councilman Louie Trujillo backed the idea of joining the districts.

After the two Las Vegas municipalities combined four decades ago, the state Legislature started seriously considering joining East and West, among other consolidations in New Mexico. In a story around that time, the Optic reported that the consolidation of the districts was “inevitable.”

In an Optic story in 2005, members of the East board seemed open to consolidation, while West members strongly opposed the idea. Then-member Ralph Garcia said he was against it because he didn’t like change, while then-board President Patrick Marquez told the audience at a board meeting that consolidation would happen “over my dead body,” prompting applause.

The arguments against consolidation are the loss of jobs, funding, and the traditions and culture of Las Vegas. Proponents of consolidation say joining the districts would mean less bureaucracy and more programs available to students.

In her interview with the Optic, Denish said she would push other consolidations in government to promote efficiency. For instance, she said she would propose merging the Public Education and Higher Education departments.

In so doing, the state can have a better approach to workforce development, Denish said.

While she touted the accomplishments of Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, Denish said the governor hired too many political appointees, which increased from about 250 to more than 400. Cutting 100 of those positions would save $8.8 million a year, she said.

She said she had a plan to save $90 million a year from the state budget, which included voluntary buyouts for employees, retirement of some of the state’s fleet and a greater use of the Internet for efficiency.