Publisher’s Note: The school board elections

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By Tom McDonald

Last week was all about the school board elections. And this week is the big buildup to the grand finale.

Already people are casting their ballot — early voting got under way a couple weeks ago. But Feb. 1 is election day, and 17 committed  candidates on the west and east sides of town will be whittled down to six elected officials.

I think last week’s forums demonstrated the high level of interest in this year’s school board elections. I counted about 70 at West’s forum, then tallied more than 125 at East’s, with several more coming in after my count at Memorial Middle School. Indeed, the interest seems to be stronger on the east side, which is no surprise given the scandals that intensified and the financial mistakes that came to light last year.

As far as I can tell, there’s a strong anti-incumbent sentiment on the east side — again, not surprisingly. On the west side, however, I don’t sense the same feeling. Perhaps it’s because West Las Vegas district controversies have subsided. The firing of Jim Abreu, for example, divided the district’s leadership, but Abreu’s replacement, Ruben Cordova, seems to be very popular these days. At last Tuesday’s forum, everyone agreed that Cordova — and the new business manager, Dinah Maynes — are doing a heckuva job, and I know of no reason to think overwise.

However, I very much agree with what incumbent Gary Gold said at the forum regarding West’s superintendency: He said the district has had two good superintendents in a row (Abreu as well as Cordova). I too thought Abreu was doing a good job running the district, and I still think his firing had more to do with some backroom politics than anything else.

But that was then and this is now, and if politics is still playing a pivotal role in West school district operations, Cordova is handling it well.

Moreover, I suspect the administrative calm that has settled over West will play well for the incumbents, Gold, Kenny Lujan and Caroline Lopez. The district seems to be doing about as well as can be expected during these cash-strapped times. As for academics — well, that’s a wholly different matter, but from what I can see, things aren’t much different on the east side.

So “incumbent” isn’t a bad word on the west side, but it seems downright toxic over on the other side of the river. And it’s not simply because of academics. Or money. Or even the sex scandals. It seems to me that teacher morale is taking a heavy toll over those charged with running the district. Former superintendent Rick Romero’s style didn’t help, nor did Associate Superintendent LeeEtte Quintana’s public disgruntledment do any good.

Teachers feel they’re being punished for the district’s problems — no refrigerators in classrooms, an inexcusable shortage of textbooks, shifting classroom assignments and more are making teachers feel frustrated and unappreciated, and ready to move to another district.

And, of course, that filters down to the quality of the education that the kids are receiving. Academics may get a lot of lip service — it’s getting plenty from the candidates — but there’s really no quick fix. It shouldn’t be a surprise if East’s voters take their frustrations out on those in power.

And I’m not just talking about Pat Romero, the only school board member who decided to seek re-election. I’m also talking about Gloria Lovato-Pacheco and Sandra Madrid. They’ve never been on the school board, but their experience as teachers and administrators in the district is vast and substantive, and this isn’t necessarily a year in which that will pay off.

Nevertheless, with every crisis comes opportunity, and East could emerge from this school board election with a dramatic change in leadership. And it’s not just the school board election that makes me say that. The school board is going to be hiring a new superintendent — the most important single job in the district for setting a new tone and new direction.

Let’s just hope the school board doesn’t blow that one — because that’s where the real opportunity lies.

• • •

Still undecided on whom to vote for? Help is coming — in the form of a school board election tab. Every candidate responded to our list of questions, and I think some of their answers are quite insightful. Look for it in Friday’s Optic.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.