Apr 7, 2022
A Political Action Committee made up of former trustees, education leaders and lawmakers are vetting out qualified candidates for Clark County School Board.
LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — A Political Action Committee made up of former trustees, education leaders and lawmakers are vetting out qualified candidates for Clark County School Board.
This is just months after we saw turmoil between current trustees, and now three of their seats are up for re-election this year.
It's called "A Better Choice" and started in early 2020.
"We're very invested in making sure that this upcoming election, although school board races are very far down-ballot, that people understand what is the better choice in their area," said Dr. Patrice Johnson, who serves on the board for the PAC.
The Better Choice PAC is looking for qualified candidates to be on the school board of trustees.
Crisis in the Classroom spoke with Johnson and fellow board member and PAC founder Terri Janison.
They shared what they are looking for in the position.
"Somebody who's professional, collaborative, respectful, even-keeled, willing to listen to someone else, and I know that encompasses some of what we've already talked about, but the ability to be able to agree to disagree in a professional manner.," said Janison.
Janison served the school Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2010 and was president for the last two.
And Johnson, an educator for 40 years, served as associate superintendent for CCSD as well as a middle and high school principal.
Johnson was also the superintendent of a district in Utah.
They are 2 of 12 board members for the PAC created in 2020.
What set the precedence for this PAC?
"It really started when we started to see some dysfunction within the current school board," said Janison. "We were watching and because we do care, so we would continue to watch the school board meetings. We would attend some of them. And we just saw what was happening. And then it was just a time for us to get together and say we need to start recruiting good quality candidates who can do that job."
Just a few months ago, much of the focus was on bickering amongst the board and not the issues important to students and staff- with added pressure from the challenges of the pandemic.
We also witnessed a vote to fire Superintendent Jesus Jara and then a vote to reverse that decision just weeks later.
Janison says part of A Better Choice's role is to make candidates aware of what the job is.
"So, you have one employee, and it is the superintendent. I think some people say, well, I'm going to come in and I'm going to fix that district right. And that's not your job. Your job is policy, it's governance. It's to support then superintendent, hire the superintendent and then support them to ensure that you all are meeting the goals that you have set out together to ensure that the children are getting the education that they deserve," said Janison. "It's a $4 billion budget that you have to oversee as well."
Why is now an important time for the PAC?
We're getting close to the election, where three seats are open for grabs.
"We're going to vet those candidates that are interested, and we certainly hope all of the candidates are interested in responding to questions that we have predetermined, and qualifications for a great board member," said Dr. Johnson.
Crisis in the Classroom asked the PAC to clarify whether the goal is to find better candidates or improve the governance of those already in the role.
"We're not saying wipe all seven of them out," said Janison. "I mean, we been that's why we reach out to them to say well, we'll serve so - if someone is willing to listen and we can see that growth and then becoming at the type of trustee that we believe is most important for our community we'll absolutely support them.
Right now- District D is currently held by Board President Irene Cepeda, District F is currently held by Danielle Ford, and District G is represented by Linda Cavazos are all up for re-election, with several candidates running for each district, including the incumbents.
"The other thing that we'll do is once we recommend certain candidates, we will help them through their election," said Janison. "So they're going to have their own campaign. But then what - if we can we'll support it and then help share through our circles as well."
News 3 asked about the importance of having qualified candidates on a school board.
"Academic achievement is what our community wants for our children," said Johnson. "So, let's get after that, and let's make that the focus of our discussions."
News 3 reached out to current trustees to hear their thoughts on the effort of the PAC.
Trustee Danielle Ford responded with some concerns about the relationship between the person who registered the PAC and the CFO of the Clark County School District-- which she says raises a conflict of interest.
Ford said, "Trustees approve policies that affect the couple financially, so to me, it seems like forming a group to endorse and fund candidates' school board elections would be highly unethical."
News 3 reached out to the registrant of the PAC as well as Janison.
Both say the registrant is not part of the board for the PAC, does not have any voting power, and is not involved in the selection of trustee candidates to support.
The registrant becomes involved only after the PAC decides who to support and provides administrative support.
When asked about what they think about the PAC's efforts, and if they've had any contact with the PAC or received any of its services, here are the responses I received:
Irene Cepeda: "Good Governance is important for any governing board. I believe the PAC has reached out to candidates, which is standard."
Lola Brooks commenting as a former candidate: "I haven't interacted with the PAC other than my endorsement interview last election cycle. I went through the official endorsement process and was endorsed by the group.
The group consists of well-informed individuals with first-hand experience serving in this capacity previously. They understand the difficulties and expectations of the role. In my personal opinion, they are well-positioned to consider the temperament and backgrounds of candidates vying to serve in this role. They are equally well positioned to determine if a candidate has a solid understanding of what it means to govern, which can be a struggle for individuals with limited experience serving on or interacting with boards."
Lisa Guzman: "I interviewed with the PAC when I ran in 2020. They did not endorse me, they endorsed Liberty Leavitt.
I do have a mentor through them. Mary Beth Scow is my mentor and I really enjoy talking to her. She has an interesting viewpoint. I enjoy hearing all viewpoints on issues before the board."
What are some qualities and things you are looking for in-school trustee candidates?
Reach out to the Crisis in the Classroom tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 805-0489.