When it comes to politics in Las Vegas, the public is always suspicious. A lot of people distrust their elected officials, and they are often justified in their reasons.
Las Vegas’ history is rife with shady dealmaking, and often the result has been an accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a few, while the “rank and file” are left wondering what happened.
Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone who seeks public office is on the take. In fact, I think most of those who run for and get elected into office have the best interests of their community at heart.
But when a candidate gets elected, his or her perspective changes. A candidate looks at the issues from an outsider’s point of view, while elected officials are insiders, which often changes their viewpoint. And that just feeds the suspicions.
I say all this to add context to what’s going on in the Las Vegas City Schools district. You’ll recall that the school board was overhauled in February’s election, after a series of disturbing developments — sex scandals, financial mismanagement and low teacher morale topping the list. Lay the blame for these problems where you want, but the fact is, they occurred under the previous school board’s watch, and I think that influenced the outcome of this year’s election.
Now we’ve got a new board — at least it’s three-fifths new — and the problems haven’t gone away. Nor have the suspicions.
Two big issues are causing plenty of suspicion — the proposed reorganization plan and the derailed attempt to hire a new superintendent.
The reorganization plan has a lot of people worried that teachers are going to be moved to different schools even if they don’t want to be moved, and even if it sacrifices the interests of one school for another. Some people with ties to Los Niños and Paul D. Henry elementary schools have expressed concerns that their schools will be hurt by the changes, and while some on the inside suggest that what they’re doing is best for the district overall, I must admit I’m suspicious too.
As for the superintendent search, school patrons’ primary suspicion appears to be that the board has been wanting to hire interim superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez all along, and that’s why the screening committee’s selections were nixed. Personally, I suspect that it’s not a unified conspiracy to get a preselected favorite into the job, but that two of the five board members want to hire her, so maybe we should cut the board a little slack on that one.
But here’s something I am adamant about: If McNellis-Martinez is going to be considered for the permanent job, she needs to go all the way through the process just like any other applicant. The board needs to do a background check on her; she needs to sit in front of the public and answer direct questions; and she needs to not be the only candidate considered in another round of job interviews.
If the board chooses to take an “easier” route, by making an informal backroom agreement before publicly making a selection, then they can expect an already suspicious army of school patrons to be vindicated in their discontent and criticism.
This I offer to the “new” board: It’s not the public’s obligation to trust you to do better than the last board. It’s your job to prove that you can, and will.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or email@example.com.