Four years ago, Lola Books defeated an incumbent to gain the District E seat on the Clark County School Board. Now, she faces the possibility of history repeating itself.
Brooks is being challenged by an outspoken teacher who has become a staple of school board public comment periods: Alexis Salt. The women advanced to the 2020 general election by defeating five other candidates during the primary in June. Brooks and Salt received 21.6 and 17.5 percent of votes, respectively. District E covers Summerlin and other parts of northwest Las Vegas.
Brooks says she considered not running for reelection but was compelled to because she believes board consistency is important. Of the seven school board seats, four are up this year. She is the only incumbent running.
The 2020 general election comes amid a pandemic that compelled the school board to require schools to teach remotely for at least half of the current academic year. By the time the newly elected trustees are seated in January, the district may be deep in the process of transitioning back to in-person instruction.
“We are tethering on the edge of the complete unknown,” says Brooks. “There has never been a time in this board’s history where experience matters more.”
Brooks acknowledges the district’s transition to fully remote learning after originally persuing a hybrid model could have gone smoother. In her words, “There’s always room for improvements.” She believes the sitting board got hung up on the process rather than metrics and supports for the educators and families forced to make the transition.
But she also believes the board is already being more mindful about what reopening looks like.
“I think we are preparing better than we prepared for distance education,” adds Brooks.
Whether Brooks will be one the trustees that oversees the transition back to the classroom depends on her ability to fend off a challenger who comes straight from the classroom.
Her opponent currently teaches English at Indian Springs High School. If elected to the school board, Salt would have to resign from the district. That’s a major personal and professional transition for an educator who has worked for the district for more than 15 years, but it’s one she feels she has been building toward for the past six years as an increasingly outspoken critic of many decisions by the school board.
Salt says six years ago she believed trustees were simply misinformed about how their decisions were affecting educators and students, so she and other educators embarked on efforts to educate them. But when those efforts resulted in little more than what she felt were half-hearted sympathies, there came what she calls “a lightbulb moment.”
“My friend looked at me and asked. What if they know? What if they know and they just don’t care? Or they know and the classroom isn’t where the loyalties lie? They’re not really working for us? What can we do about it?”
Salt pushes back against any suggestion that she is inexperienced: “I have the only experience that matters.”
She continued, “If I was running for judge and had never gone to law school or even worked in a legal office, you’d hang up that phone. That’s audacious. But people run for school board with no public education experience and try to insinuate that the people who work in the school are not experienced.”
The day jobs of current trustees include a therapist, a marketing strategist, a grant coordinator and a dental hygienist. Brooks is a student data analyst at Beacon Academy, an independent charter school overseen by the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority. She has been in that position since 2016, the year she was elected to the CCSD school board. Prior to that, Brooks worked with nonprofits on data, technology and operational analysis, according to her biography.
Brooks defends the relevance of her professional experience, saying much of what the school board does is “about policy formation and reflecting community values” and is “far removed from classroom instruction directly.” Brooks believes her experience with data, student success and her formal education in macro social work align well with the big-picture duties of the school board.
Brooks has raised $10,829.99 from January through June, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state. Most of that amount — $10,000 — came from a single source: Clark County Education Association’s Together in Politics.
While the teacher’s union is backing Brooks, several other unions have endorsed Salt, including the Culinary Union, Nevada State Education Association and the Southern Nevada Building Trades Unions.
Salt raised $13,558 from January through June. A significant chunk — $5,000 — was an in-kind contribution from Rising Phoenix LLC for “election consulting and website creation.” Rising Phoenix is a company owned and operated by District F Trustee Danielle Ford.
Brooks and Ford have found themselves on opposite sides of a recurring split on the school board. Most notably, Ford pushed for a review and possible dismissal of Superintendent Jesus Jara following an embarrassing he-said-she-said fiasco with Speaker Jason Frierson, State Superintendent Jhone Ebert and Gov. Steve Sisolak over who pitched a doomed bill proposal during the 31st Special Session.
Salt disclosed she has received another $5,000 in-kind donation from Ford, which will appear on the third quarter’s campaign finance reports, which are due mid-October. Salt calls herself “hopeless with technology” and says Ford offered to assist her on a campaign website. Ford also recommended a book on balanced governance, which has become a recurring topic for a board that has bickered over what the scope and purpose of trustees is.
Salt says she and Ford haven’t discussed any policy beyond the book recommendation, but that she admires the similarly outspoken trustee. She says they agree on some but not all policies, including being critical of the superintendent.
“I’ve made no bones about it, I would go in a different direction,” said Salt of Jara. “We need a superintendent who has an investment in our community. That said, I’m not particularly thrilled with anyone in the district. I think maybe we can go outside of the district but inside the state or community and find someone who understands the political landscape here.”
Brooks has been less critical of the superintendent overall.