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Vegas board votes for Jones

Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight Jones
Education Commissioner Dwight Jones discussed his status as one of three finalists for the Las Vegas, Nev., schools. Sept. 16, 2010.

The Clark County school board Wednesday evening chose Colorado education Commissioner Dwight Jones as its next superintendent, formally voting 6-1 to open negotiations with him for the Nevada job.

The only no vote was cast by trustee Linda Young, who said she objected to the speed of the selection process, not necessarily to Jones.

The other candidate was Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the Dallas, Texas, schools.

In a statement issued after the vote, Jones said, “I sincerely appreciate this opportunity to work with the Clark County school district to improve student achievement. I am humbled by the choice, knowing the board had another outstanding candidate.

“It is clear to me that Clark County wants what we all want, to ensure that all children have access to inspiring learning environments that set high standards and successfully prepare all students for college or careers.

“I look forward with enthusiasm to working with the educators, school staff and community in Clark County, and I will make the transition to Nevada as soon as I can ensure a smooth exit from Colorado. I am keenly excited about the work and challenges ahead.”

With the Nevada board’s decision, finding a successor will be a top priority for the Colorado State Board of Education, which will have at least two new members after the election in November.

Board Vice Chair Randy DeHoff, R-6th District, said he and fellow Republican Peggy Littleton have suggested an interim commissioner be appointed until new members take office. DeHoff and Littleton both are leaving the board.

“It’s probably not a surprise, given his record, his reputation,” DeHoff said. “I’m happy for him; we’re certainly going to miss him here.’’

Elaine Gantz Berman, D-1st District, agreed that Jones’ move wasn’t a surprise. “I think we all expected it. He’s star talent.”

She said “the board has had no conversations at all about what happens next.” Berman noted that the next scheduled board meeting is Oct. 6. “We’ll have an executive session next week, and we’ll start the conversation. … I expect the commissioner will recommend an interim commissioner.”

Member Angelika Schroeder, D-2nd District, said, “I know this is what he wanted to do. I do wish him well.” She also said the board hasn’t yet discussed what to do next. (Schroeder is the only SBE incumbent on the ballot this year, facing Republican Kaye Ferry.)

Bob Schaffer, chair of the State Board of Education, told said on Thursday, “I’m not anxious” for education Commissioner Dwight Jones to leave. “We owe Dwight quite a lot.”

Schaffer said the state board hasn’t “formally” discussed next steps, “just ideas on a one-to-one basis.” He continued, “I expect if the commissioner leaves we would consider any recommendations he has about succession. … That may entail an interim. We’re not rushing to make plans just yet.” He said it’s “unlikely” any decision about a new commissioner would be made before the end of the year.

Jones revealed on Sept. 16 that he was a finalist for the job and was in Nevada for two days last week for public meetings and interviews. Clark County board members later visited Dallas and Denver.

The commissioner said previously that he didn’t seek the Las Vegas job but finally agreed to let a search firm submit his name.

Jones, previously superintendent of the Fountain-Fort Carson school district, has made no secret of his interest in someday heading a large urban district.

At the time of the announcement, members of the state board praised Jones’ work and said they supported him interviewing for the Nevada job.

Jones, 48, the state’s education commissioner since June 2007, is widely credited with improving relations between the state Department of Education, local school districts and the Colorado Education Association.

He’s been a central player in education reform efforts over the last three years, including the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, improved data systems, the new method for accrediting school districts, the educator effectiveness law and the ultimately unsuccessful Race to the Top bid.

Jones started career as teacher

Jones began his career in education as a teacher in Junction City, Kansas, before becoming a principal in elementary, middle and high schools and then assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in the Wichita district.

He then became a vice president for the Edison Schools charter network and, in 2004, became assistant superintendent and later superintendent of the Fountain-Fort Carson School District south of Colorado Springs. He was recognized during his three-year tenure in the 7,400-student district for closing achievement gaps.

As commissioner, Jones works with 178 school districts educating 830,000 students.

Retiring Clark County Superintendent Walt Rulffes’ salary is $277,000, down from $307,000 after he took a voluntary 10 percent pay cut in October. Jones’ current pay is $223,860.

According to data on its website, the Clark County School District is the fifth largest in the U.S., with nearly 310,000 students, more than 350 schools, some 38,000 employees and an annual budget of about $2.9 billion.

For years, Clark County has led the nation in student growth and building schools. In 1998, Rulffes, then the district’s CFO, is credited with helping win passage of a $3.5 billion bond issue, one of the nation’s largest.

But enrollment dipped in fall 2009, the first time the district had reported a drop in its student count in 25 years. District leaders blamed the recession.

Changing of the guard in Colorado

No interim Colorado commissioner was named in 2007 when William Moloney left and was succeeded by Jones. After Jones, the senior executives in the department are deputy commissioners Robert Hammond, in charge of finance and administration, and Diana Sirko, who recently joined to department in charge of learning and results.

Speculation about a permanent successor to Jones began swirling as soon as he let his secret out two weeks ago. Names in the air have included outgoing Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien. Three prominent superintendents – Tom Boasberg of Denver, John Barry of Aurora and Mike Miles of Harrison – all have told Education News Colorado that they’re not interested.

In departing the state scene, Jones joins Gov. Bill Ritter and O’Brien, both of whom played major roles on education issues during the last four years. They chose not to run for second terms. House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, who played a prominent role in charter school legislation and in passage of the educator effectiveness law, is leaving the legislature because of term limits.

Vegas board notes

Video of the Clark County trustees meeting was streamed live on the Internet, including public testimony from several people, most of whom were critical of the pace of the board’s selection process.

The speaker most critical of Jones was Stephen Augspurger, an official of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees.

Augspurger maintained there are “nagging issues relating to his transparency and integrity,” claiming Jones wasn’t fully candid with Clark County trustees when asked whom he’d talked to about the job in Nevada.

Augspurger also argued that Jones wasn’t transparent in handling recent raises for CDE executives. He was referring to a recent KCNC-TV story in which state Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, complained about raises in a time of budget cuts. CDE officials note that Jones had the authority to set the salaries, that raises went to employees who were assigned additional staff members to supervise and that two assistant commissioner positions weren’t filled, yielding net payroll savings.

Responding to the various public comments, Clark County trustees were polite but made it clear they disagreed.

Archived video of the meeting wasn’t available late Wednesday, but you can watch video of the board’s Sept. 23 interviews with the finalists here.

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