Policy, politics and progressive commentary
The Current interviewed eight of the 10 candidates running to represent District F on the Clark County School Board. We asked them about their backgrounds and their inspiration for running. We also asked for their opinions on Superintendent Jesus Jara, the school choice movement, and what the top priorities would be as a trustee.
The 10 candidates will appear on primary ballots. If any candidate receives more than 50% of votes, they win the seat outright. If no candidate crosses that threshold, which appears likely given the crowded field, then the top two finishers will face off in November during the general election.
Below are highlights gleaned from each interview.
Danielle Ford (incumbent)
Who she is: Ford is the current trustee representing the district, which covers the southwest portion of the Las Vegas Valley. She was first elected in 2018. Ford is a mother to two CCSD students.
On why she is running again: “I feel like I haven’t had a chance to do the job I was elected for,” she said. Much of that feeling stems from what Ford believes has been the board actively giving up their power and ability to be involved.
“There’s this narrative that good governance is following the rules and smiling and getting along and not asking too many questions,” said Ford. “It’s an attempt to make trustees be quiet. In actuality, good governance is oversight, accountability, listening, envisioning, coming up with ideas and being able to bring it together.”
Ford says she is hopeful that “things could change” in the near future. Those changes, she elaborated, could include a shift in board members or a new superintendent. Jara’s contract is set to expire early next year.
On the superintendent: Ford has been the most vocal trustee in expressing disapproval of Jara. She was unsuccessful in her push to get him fired last year, but she says she is proud of the fact she “puts things on the record.”
She maintains her position that Jara “is the worst.” She hopes the school board will feel compelled to replace him with someone who can restore faith in the district.
“If we had gotten any decent, okay superintendent, we’d just be coasting. The district really needed one way or the other.”
In other words, with Jara having brought the district to a new low, there’s only one way to go: up.
Irene Bustamante Adams
Where you might know her: Bustamante Adams, a Democrat, served four terms in the Nevada State Assembly. She is currently deputy director and chief strategy officer at Workforce Connections, which is Southern Nevada’s Local Workforce Development Board.
On why she’s running: “My grandson is why. He’s 2 years old. He’ll be in CCSD in about three years, so I’m going to increase my efforts to do my part and add value to the table.”
On the superintendent: Jara sits on the board of Workforce Connections. Bustamante Adams said that her interactions with him have been “a positive experience.” She complimented Jara and the district’s commitment to aligning the K-12 system with local workforce needs. When asked whether she would have voted to fire Jara — which the board did last year but quickly undid — Bustamante Adams said she would have voted to retain him.
She emphasized: Not surprisingly, Bustamante Adams emphasized the importance of workforce development. When asked to identify something positive happening with District F, she pointed to a regional workforce blueprint that identifies emerging industries within the state, adding that CCSD has bought into the plan and is better preparing students for real-world careers.
Kali Fox Miller
Her background: Fox Miller describes herself a fourth-generation Nevadan and a third-generation CCSD graduate who began tutoring others at age 15. She ran a mentoring program in Georgia and worked in Atlanta public schools before going to law school. Her current day job is with a financial tech company. She is also president-elect of the Nevada Parent Teacher Association.
Second-time challenge: Fox Miller ran for school board in 2018 but lost to Ford during the general election.
On the superintendent: Fox Miller says she would fire Jara for his “failure to meet metrics of progress,” but she is critical of the process that was used by the board members who brought forth the agenda item to fire him last year. “I felt that vote was rushed,” she added.
On bringing new energy: “I truly believe our school district can grow and improve. I think this has been a very, very difficult few years for people within our district, and all they are asking is for people to bring positivity and hard work. They’re tired of the negativity.”
On increased interest on school boards: School board meetings across the country have become hotbeds of public comment and controversial subjects like mask and vaccine mandates, sex education, critical race theory and restorative justice have commended attention. Fox Miller said as long as people are respectful, school boards are a viable venue for airing such grievances.
“I think over the past two years there are so many people who have been through so much,” she said. “I think the fact they come to our school board first is a sign that the school board is responsive to their needs. I would question why they feel the school board is where they can be heard and not the county commission, not the governor, not the legislature. This is where they feel comfortable.”
His background: Vicario is a licensed teacher in Nevada who entered the field via an alternative route to licensure program after earning a business degree and working in the private sector. He currently teaches middle school students at Innovations International Charter School, a CCSD-sponsored charter school. His wife teaches pre-k at Frias Elementary School (also a CCSD school), which is located in District F. They have two daughters, both enrolled at Frias.
On understanding classroom issues: Vicario says his professional background gives him a thorough understanding of and passion for classroom issues, such as class sizes. “You cannot have a secure, well disciplined classroom with 40 kids in it,” he says. “Are you teaching or are you babysitting?”
Vicario is also concerned about the use of unqualified subs, especially in long-term positions. “God bless them,” he said, not wanting to disparage them. “Thank you for your service. But for $120 a day do you think they’re going to (make a) lesson plan for three hours? … How dedicated will they be?”
Vicario was the only candidate to bring up Teachers Health Trust, CCSD teacher’s beleaguered health plan, as an issue that needs to be prioritized. He says THT was “the best insurance he ever had” when he first moved to Southern Nevada — “but no more.”
“It’s hard to retain teachers when they’re being sent to collections during a pandemic,” he added, referring to reports of teachers whose medical providers were dropping THT patients or sending them to collections because the trust was behind on paying.
On the existing board members: “I have no issue with any board members. They’re doing their best, what they believe is right. There’s nothing wrong with that. I might have a different vision. I might look at issues different. I have a different voice. But I don’t think it helps anyone to talk bad about those doing their best.”
On what drove him to run: MacCaul is the father of a sophomore at Desert Oasis High School, which found itself in the news earlier this year after numerous lockdowns and incidents. “(My daughter) told me and her mom ‘I don’t want to go. I’m afraid.’ No student should live in fear of going to school. … Something has to be different.”
The board, he said, could use a father’s perspective. There are currently no men on the school board.
On the superintendent: MacCaul declined to take a concrete stance on Jara’s performance, saying he doesn’t have enough of the facts currently but would as trustee.
He took a similar position when asked his thoughts about breaking up the school district, saying he’d have to consider the specific issues before deciding. However, he was generally supportive of state-run charter schools, saying they promote competition and should encourage principals to make their schools better.
On the incumbent: “From being a parent, I don’t see the impact she’s made,” said MacCaul of Ford. He also criticized the outspoken incumbent’s public clashes with other trustees as unprofessional. Ford on Twitter last week quoted herself as having said to fellow Trustee Katie Williams during a closed door meeting: “Shut the f*ck up, Katie. Shut the f*ck up, Katie. Katie… shut the f*ck up.”
“I may not like everyone but I’ll respect everyone,” added MacCaul.
Insight into hiring, retention issues: Corum said CCSD offered him a position teaching video production and journalism on Dec. 16, but he was not processed until March 1. “They had a sub in there I’m sure doing their best, but that’s not their subject matter,” he added. “They lost two and a half months.”
Then, when Corum opted to resign a few months later at the end of the school year, he said nobody within the school’s administration or in central human resources asked him why he didn’t want to return: “They were not trying to figure out why a brand new teacher who should have been excited was leaving.”
An advocate for parental involvement: “Parents had kind of backed away from education and let schools and the government take that over,” said Corum, “but parents are trying to reinsert themselves in schools and education.”
Speaking specifically on sex education, he said the curriculum should stick to health. He said he believes all curriculum should be parent-focused, parent-focused and parent-reviewed.
On private school vouchers and charter competition: Corum said he is supportive of vouchers because he believes tax money belongs to the parents. “Even if it might hurt CCSD initially, if we grow smaller to get big again, it might improve. If we can improve CCSD curriculum, they will come back.”
He said he is also open to breaking up the school district, saying “every business has a sweet spot”’ and CCSD might not be at its.
Jay ‘Coach’ Calhoun
His involvement with the district: Calhoun has lived in Las Vegas for “going on eight years” and been involved with schools in various capacities, including being a football coach at Desert Oasis High School, driving a school bus, working in IT at Rancho High School, and being a soccer coach.
On school safety, technology: His daughter is currently enrolled at Desert Oasis High School, and Calhoun is critical about what he says was a lack of communication to parents this spring when several violent incidents and scares put the spotlight on the school. He says that, with the infusion of federal money through COVID-relief packages, the district has no excuse for not investing in better technology and communication all around.
On the superintendent: Calhoun says he would have fallen on the side of ending Jara’s contract early, saying he’s seen “lots of talk and no policy.” Boards of directors of private companies, he added, wouldn’t be pleased with a business leader who had shown little progress over a four-year period.
On ‘school choice’ movement: Calhoun said parents pulling their children out of CCSD and enrolling them into charter schools “should be feedback” for the district. “People are leaving. What are you doing wrong?”
Why she’s running: The mother of six said she felt compelled to run out of concerns over school violence and student suicide rates. She said her kindergartener was surrounded, hit and punched by fellow students and that the violence was dismissed as “rough play” and not addressed by the teacher or principal. That particular incident happened at a local charter school not operated or associated with CCSD, but Neely said she feels violence is happening at all schools and needs to be addressed.
On the superintendent: “The superintendent’s performance is a reflection of the drama and dysfunction of our school board,” said Neely. “I would have decided to rip the Band-Aid off. Our kids are way more important than saving some dollars.”
On the incumbent: Neely said she voted for Ford four years ago but is now “very regretful” of that decision. “(Ford) has publicly said she’s a BLM activist. Her policies have increased the problems, the dysfunction and the drama. I am pro-life. She’s pro-choice.”
Neely also criticized the board as a whole. “It’s a shame that parents go up to the podium and those opinions are not heard,” she said, referring to public comment.
Musemici did not return the Current’s request for an interview. Campaign materials posted to her Facebook page describe her as “a small business owner, Judeo-Christian, wife and mother.” Musemici ran for the same seat in 2018 but lost during the primary to Ford and Fox Miller.
Bey did not return the Current’s request for an interview. He does not have an online campaign presence.
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