School Board: District A candidates come bringing connections

Lisa Guzman vs Liberty Leavitt

District A candidates
Lisa Guzman (left) and Liberty Leavitt are competing to represent District A on the CCSD Board of Trustees. (Photos courtesy of Lisa Guzman and Liberty Leavitt.)

Neither candidate in the Clark County School Board’s District A race has held an elected office before, but both have interacted with Nevada’s political machine in notable ways — one as a union leader, and one as the wife of a former state legislator.

Lisa Guzman is assistant executive director of the Nevada State Education Association and executive director of the Education Support Employees Association. Liberty Leavitt is a former Clark County School District teacher, magnet coordinator and central office administrator who now works for a local education nonprofit. She is also the wife of former state Sen. Michael Roberson, who played a key role in state legislation affecting the district today.

Both are hoping to succeed outgoing Trustee Deanna Wright, who was term limited and could not run for reelection in District A, which includes Henderson as well as Laughlin and Searchlight.

Guzman, who started her career as a paraprofessional and teacher, says she threw her hat into the ring because she believes the school board needs people who understand good policy, know how to execute plans, and understand how to mediate differences of opinions to get things done.

“I moved here five years ago and what I’ve noticed is the trustees do not have a grasp on education policy the way I do,” she says.

If elected, Guzman plans to continue as assistant executive director at NSEA but hand over any work involving ESEA to other directors within the statewide union. ESEA is the collective bargaining group for support staff employed by CCSD. She expects to have a formal legal opinion on the issue before Election Day, but it was not available at press time.

That said, Guzman does hope to be a voice and champion for support staff, who she says are constantly overlooked by the district. ESEA recently launched an “ESPs are forgotten” campaign to call out Superintendent Jesus Jara and CCSD.

“ESPs are an afterthought,” says Guzman. “When the board passes things they always say ‘teachers’ and everyone just assumes that includes the ESPs … They are always left out.”

Leavitt says she is running because she is passionate about education and believes she can be a calming “voice of reason” on a board that has seemed increasingly fractured and dramatic. She says her perspective is informed by firsthand experience working in the district, first as a teacher, then as a magnet coordinator and finally as an administrator in the central office.

She adds that her political ambitions start and end at the school board.

Leavitt says her husband, who served in the Nevada Senate from 2010 to 2018, originally thought she was joking when she told him she wanted to run for school board. Friends were similarly perplexed: “Everyone said, ‘But you hate politics. You hated every last minute of it.’”

But she adds, “I really believe with my personality and focus we can bring the board back to what it’s intended to do.”

Advocating for additional state funding is one of Leavitt’s priorities. She believes there is waste in the district’s central office — “I’ve seen it” — but she also believes the district is underfunded overall. For that mission, she acknowledges she can pull from what she’s seen and learned about the legislative process through her familial political connections. She points out that in 2015, as her husband pushed legislation to reorganize and decentralize the school district, she worked in the center of that school district.

“Clearly we’ve had a lot of interesting conversations in my household,” she says.

Leavitt believes the school board should be “cleaning up” the reorganization, which she describes as a “fantastic concept” with uneven implementation. She believes schools should have more autonomy. She also contends the district should soften its stance on independent charter schools and look at why parents are choosing to enroll their students there rather than within the district.

Meanwhile, Guzman says most of her priorities boil down to addressing the culture and communication practices of the district, which have a rippling effect on all policies: “There’s a hierarchy and there’s a good ole boys network. That needs to change.” She says district employees fear speaking out. She believes the district should be more uniform in the information it distributes to administrators, staff and the public. She adds that this is particularly true about explaining budget issues to the general public.

“We need to make that more of a focus because parents are seeing their tax dollars go out but they don’t know where it’s going,” she says. “That kind of information needs to be told.”

Guzman secured a sizable lead during the primary, securing 26 percent of votes compared to Leavitt’s 19 percent. But low voter turnout compared to a general election and a crowded field of eight candidates means the race is still wide open this fall.

Leavitt maintains a sizable fundraising advantage. She raised $65,270 from January through June, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state. Clark County Education Association, which worked with Roberson during his time in the Nevada Legislature, has endorsed Leavitt and contributed $10,000 to her campaign.

Guzman raised $20,505 during that same time period.

For more on the candidates:
Lisa Guzman: campaign website | Facebook | Twitter
Liberty Leavitt: campaign website | Facebook | Twitter

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.