News - February 7, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said Monday he is preparing a bill at the Legislature to change the way school boards are selected in Clark and Washoe counties -- with voters selecting three members and local governments and the governor picking four.

"We have seen significant problems at the school board level both in Washoe and Clark counties in terms of both the integrity of the individual elected officials and more importantly, the faith that the community has in those boards," Kieckhefer said.

Kieckhefer made his comments Tuesday morning during a taping for the Nevada Newsmakers program.

When asked if his plan lessens the voice of the people, Kieckhefer replied:

"I would like to know how many of those people know who their elected member is on the school board."

Under the plan, the City of Reno, City of Sparks, the Washoe Commission and the governor would each appoint one member of the Washoe school board, Kieckhefer said. The system for Clark County was not discussed.

The public wariness of the Washoe school board was cited by political analysts as a major reason why the Washoe Commission failed to approve a tax bill to help Washoe's aging inventory of school buildings in 2013, after the issue was kicked to the commission by the Legislature.

The wariness of the Washoe school trustees lingered during the 2016 election, but a strong push by education activists and community leaders helped pass a sales tax increase to fund school construction in Washoe.

Washoe Question 1 passed with 56 percent of the vote, bucking a trend. Washoe voters have voted down five of the seven ballot questions related to public school funding in the past 20 years.

"In particular in Washoe County, the lack of faith that the community had in the Washoe school board of trustees put in serious jeopardy and risk the ability to get money approved on the ballot for school construction," Kieckhefer said. "That was a critical need and thankfully that passed. But it was in real danger because people don't trust the school board to do the right thing with the money."

The bill is currently being drafted, Kieckhefer said.

"It is an effort to create a higher level of scrutiny in some ways that will be able to shore up the integrity of the boards in the minds of the public," Kieckhefer said about his proposal.