The Nevada Republican Party last week warned that the outcome of top-ballot races will have a tremendous impact on the state’s education policy, especially in regards to K-12 charter school growth and voucher programs. Both gubernatorial candidates have released education policy plans and gone on the offensive attacking one another over them.
For all that attention, down-ballot races for seats on the Clark County School District Board of Trustees and the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents are getting lost in the election shuffle. But these less-funded, local races are happening at an interesting time in education.
CCSD and Clark County Education Association, the union representing its teachers, came to a unique agreement earlier this fall to lobby the legislature together to address the state’s outdated funding formula and low teacher pay. Its the school board that will have to implement whatever policy changes come out of the session, and its trustees who will bear the brunt of feedback from angry parents, employees or community members next year. The school board has been described as fractured and several high-profile votes have passed or failed with decisions split 4-3.
At the collegiate level, the University of Nevada Las Vegas is currently without a permanent president, following the dramatic departure of Len Jessup earlier this year. Meanwhile, the College of Southern Nevada is a scant few months into having new a president, Federico Zaragoza. The board of regents are tasked with making that crucial hire and keeping top leadership accountable.
Schools at both the K-12 and collegiate level are grappling with how to meet ever-changing performance standards.
Three seats on the CCSD Board of Trustees and two seats on the NSHE Board of Regents are up for grabs this election cycle . Here’s an overview of the races and candidates.
CCSD District D: Irene Cepeda vs. Kevin Child
In CCSD District D, incumbent Kevin Child seeks a second term. He is being challenged by well-funded newcomer Irene Cepeda. A real estate broker by day, Child has been a controversial figure from day one of his first term as trustee. A 2016 internal investigation into Child found his behavior created a hostile and intimidating work environment, especially for female employees of the schools he visited. The following year, then-superintendent Pat Skorkowsky banned him from visiting schools without their permission. Child responded with a lawsuit against some of his fellow trustees and former school district leadership and staff. He has maintained that all of the allegations against him were politically motivated because he’s been the most outspoken critic of the district’s spending.
Child has also ruffled feathers of progressive groups for social media posts, including one where he suggested undocumented immigrants who don’t speak English were responsible for the district’s academic failures. District D includes diverse neighborhoods within the central part of the valley.
A political newcomer, Cepeda currently works as a project coordinator at Nevada State College. She graduated from UNLV with a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in education.
In the most unusual mini-controversies of the race, Child accused his opponent of changing her last name from “Zepeda” to “Cepeda” in order to appear ahead of him and two other candidates on the ballot. Cepeda made the name change in February, two weeks before she filed her candidacy. Cepeda told press at the time that the name change was not related to the election and was intended to honor her dead mother, whose family spelled their last name with a “C” until they migrated to Nicaragua.
Cepeda finished first in the primary, garnering 47 percent of votes. Child finished second with 24 percent of votes.
Cepeda has raised more money than any school board candidate, reporting $44,959.78 in monetary contributions since launching her campaign. Backing her financially and through endorsements are several unions and politicians. Child has reported only $500 in contributions.
CCSD District F: Danielle Ford vs. Kali Fox Miller
District F covers the southwest part of the valley, including Mountain’s Edge and rural areas like Sandy Valley, Goodsprings and Jean. There, two political newcomers — Kali Fox Miller and Danielle Ford — are vying to replace Carolyn Edwards, who was-term limited and could not run again. Nine people in total appeared on the ballot during the primary. Ford and Miller received the most votes with 16 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
Ford is a creative video marketing strategist, former teen mom and high school dropout who’s active in Cub Scouts and parent-teacher organizations. According to campaign finance reports she is mostly self-funded, having donated $7,000 of her $11,500 in monetary contributions received since the primary.
Miller is an attorney for Portfolio Recovery Associates, a multinational debt collection corporation. She has previously worked as a state auditor and for the attorney general’s office. She is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology and UNLV Boyd School of Law. According to her campaign finance reports, Miller has raised $25,503.57. Her numerous contributors include a variety of educational groups, political groups and unions, as well as outgoing trustee Edwards.
Ford has promoted herself as “not the establishment’s candidate” and leaned heavy on her personal experience as a former CCSD student who fell through the district’s cracks and a parent of two current students. On her campaign website, she notes she is the “only candidate in this race who even has any children.” Miller says she’ll draw from her work experience, campaigning on budgeting accountability and better student assessments.
District G: Linda Cavazos vs. Ryan Scalia
In District G, Trustee Linda Cavazos is running to retain her seat, which she was appointed to by the school board last year after Trustee Erin Cranor resigned to attend law school in Utah. District G covers parts of Green Valley, Whitney and Sunrise Manor.
Cavazos is a part-time therapist and former teacher. Challenging her is Ryan Scalia, a marketing manager at Dotty’s. Cavazos has an extensive list of endorsements, including ones from Education Support Employees Association, the Nevada State Education Association, Clark County Education Association and the Culinary Union. Scalia hasn’t publicized any endorsements and reports no campaign contributions.
Cavazos and Scalia did not face off during the primary, as they were the only two candidates who ran, ensuring an automatic runoff between them.
Cepeda, Miller and Cavazos have attended campaign and fundraising efforts together.
NSHE District 12: Amy Carvalho vs. Andrew Coates
Amy Carvalho and Andrew Coates are running in NSHE District 12, which includes Boulder City and parts of Henderson and Paradise. That seat is currently held by Andrea Anderson, who opted not to rerun for her seat.
Carvalho is the owner of multiple 7-Eleven stores. The Boulder City resident has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UNLV and an MBA from Western Governors University. She was appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to serve as the chair of the Council for the Establishment of Academic Standards for Public Schools.
Coates earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California Davis and a law degree and MBA from UNLV. The Henderson resident has experience on several education boards and committees. He’s previously run for state assembly but lost.
Four people ran in the primary held over the summer. Carvalho and Coates came out as the top contenders, earning 47 percent and 34 percent of votes, respectively. Coates has earned more endorsements from a variety of local groups and elected officials, including Henderson Mayor Debra March, the Nevada Faculty Alliance and the Nevada State Education Association. Carvalho did earn an endorsement from the Latin Chamber of Commerce.
NSHE District 1: Jo Cato vs. Laura Perkins
Jo Cato and Laura Perkins are running in NSHE District 1, which encompasses much of North Las Vegas and Downtown Las Vegas. That seat is currently held by Anthony Williams. Williams was appointed in April by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Williams replaced Cedric Crear, who resigned from the board of regents after winning a special election for a seat on Las Vegas City Council.
Crear has endorsed Cato, saying in a statement that “she will continue the progress of the work I started on the board of regents.” North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee has also endorsed her.
Cato is president of the public relations firm Periwinkle as well as a marketing and government affairs consultant at Nevada Strategies. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of the West Indies and a master’s in economics from George Washington University. She has taught at the College of Southern Nevada.
Perkins is a former planning commissioner for the city of North Las Vegas. She earned an associate’s degree in electronic engineering technology from the College of Southern Nevada and a bachelor’s degree in postsecondary education. She says she has classroom experience teaching software programming to adults.
Cato and Perkins were part of a packed primary that included three other candidates. In the primary, Perkins received the most votes — 5,651 or 33 percent of the vote. Cato received 3,626 or 21 percent of the vote.
Early voting has already begun. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.