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School board chief wants parents to get involved

by Merrie Leininger

Parents will be a key component of the fight to get more funds for Douglas County schools.

Douglas County School District officials are disappointed with the amount budgeted for schools by Gov. Kenny Guinn and say the problems will only get worse from here.

School Board President Cheri Johnson said the 2001 Legislative session, which starts Feb. 5, will be critical.

“We’re going to come up with strategies. When you’re reasonable and actually show an educational impact with the funds they give us, you have more of a chance with the Legislature,” Johnson said. “We need to energize our parents. The Legislature listens to parents. I think the discussion will be how to get our parents to be lobbyists and attend hearings. Then it will be parents saying, ‘This is how X, Y, Z affects my child.’ When you have a personal relationship with the Legislature, it has a huge impact.”

Superintendent Pendery Clark said the district faces hard times with no money for teacher raises.

The governor proposed $58 million for a one-time bonus for all public school employees, which amounts to about 5 percent.

“I am very disappointed with the 5 percent bonus idea because I don’t feel that provides the long-term solution. It is very short-sighted,” Clark said. “At some point, the state has to realize we have to provide adequate salary increases for teachers. They make comments like, ‘They can get it from the district,’ but anyone aware of what happened across the state this year knows it’s not that easy. Many districts went to arbitration and had very contentious negotiation processes. If we are going to put money in salaries, we will have to take it away from something else.”

Johnson called the one-time bonus unfair to teachers.

“Teachers deserve to be paid for the quality of work they have to do. I don’t think the one-shot money gives them respect. I appreciate the governor trying to find something for the teachers, but this isn’t enough,” Johnson said.

Clark said the state will soon see the effects of not supporting its veteran teachers.

“We know there is a teacher shortage already in parts of Nevada and it will be hitting the rural districts soon. So we will be facing trying to recruit as well as trying to retain. I think we’re not going to be able to compete pretty soon. Teachers will be leaving us to go to districts where they can make $5,000 to $10,000 more just starting,” Clark said.

The budget also includes $20 million for textbooks and classroom technology, $7 million for remediation in under-performing schools and $14 million for teacher training with a focus on reading.

“I think a number of things are encouraging and will be helpful,” Clark said. “He set aside money for reading programs. We’re pleased to see that, because we’ve also made a commitment to improve reading proficiency. Hopefully, that money can be used to improve our existing programs or provide additional reading teachers, but we’ll just have to see what the requirements will be.”

Johnson said Douglas County will be better off than other counties because it prepared for higher standards.

“Right now the districts are scrambling for money for remediation and summer school. We’ve earmarked those resources, but it’s still not enough money. Just adequate isn’t enough,” she said.