(Jim Clark) – It was a pleasant surprise to read former Washoe County School Superintendent Paul Dugan’s commentary on the editorial page of last week’s issue of the Bonanza. The headline read: “Rory Reid has the best plan for the future of Nevada education.”
Rory Reid, son of Democratic Senator Harry Reid, is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor of the Silver State in next month’s primary election. The retired superintendent’s support was no surprise whatsoever since Paul Dugan has been registered as a Democrat in Washoe County since 1991.
The pleasant surprise was that Dugan strongly supports Candidate Reid’s new found admiration for decentralized schools where principals are free to “develop school schedules and curricul(a), manage school budgets and make staffing decisions that best serve students in their schools” as Dugan wrote in these pages just last week. Reid must have recently read “Making Schools Work” by UCLA Graduate Management School professor William Ouchi (Google it . . . extremely interesting research).
The concepts of decentralized schools and delegated management have been hallmarks of the Republican Party education platform for years, both nationally and here in Nevada.
Republican State Senators Maurice Washington and Jon Porter got charter school legislation passed in Nevada in 1997.
Republican President George Bush appointed Houston School Superintendent Rodrick Paige, an African American who grew up in the ghetto, his first Secretary of Education. Paige was a devotee of William Ouchi and implemented many of his management suggestions in Houston.
Republican Governor Jim Gibbons successfully championed laws creating empowerment schools which are characterized by the decentralized management described by Superintendent Dugan. Clark County now has 19 empowerment schools and Whittell High School, on the east shore of Tahoe, is an empowerment school.
Democrats have been subservient to the political juice of national, state and local teacher unions which are committed to sheltering mediocrity, opposing merit pay for outstanding teachers, hogging state and county budgets and blocking any effort to decentralize education management. Historically the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates for office have relied on financial contributions and shoe leather support from teacher unions which appears to make Rory Reid’s renaissance and move to embrace the GOP education plank all the more miraculous.
But it turns out he had a lead to follow.
When Barack Obama was elected president he brought Chicago Superintendent of Schools Arne Duncan to Washington to serve as Secretary of Education. Duncan is familiar with William Ouchi’s teachings having implemented many of them in Chicago. Instead of dismantling the No Child Left Behind Act as the national teacher unions urged he demanded that failing schools’ staff be fired and the students reassigned to performing schools. He implemented the “Race to the Top” program with incentive funds for states that restructure education laws to permit better management.
(Nevada was ineligible because the state teacher union sneaked a law in during a special legislative session which prohibits teacher pay being tied to student performance – the law was amended last year.)
If Dugan was superintendent why didn’t he practice what he now preaches? I know the answer to that. Last year Dugan formed the Incline Schools Task Force on which I served as chair of the finance subcommittee. We reviewed budgets, interviewed school district finance officers, talked with principals and found that education spending is almost entirely controlled by state legislative mandates. School districts have little discretion in how taxpayer funds are spent, principals almost none.
Supt. Dugan should be pleased to know that all three GOP gubernatorial candidates are committed to decentralized schools and school choice. Is Rory Reid out on a limb with his party? Maybe he should become a Republican.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee)