Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Nevada Department of Education Jhone Ebert meets with kindergarten students at Battle Mountain Elementary School during her statewide tour.
Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Nevada Department of Education Jhone Ebert meets with kindergarten students at Battle Mountain Elementary School during her statewide tour.
Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Nevada Department of Education Jhone Ebert stopped in Battle Mountain on her statewide listening tour of all 17 Nevada school districts. Ebert visited classrooms and spent time with students, teachers, and school board and community members. 

Ebert stated, “My goal is to better understand the treasures of our communities as well as the desires and challenges of greater student success.”

Ebert, a lifelong educator, said she spent 25 years in the Clark County School District and started out as a math teacher. She held many different roles, was Director of Public Schools, and had the opportunity to go to New York to the State Department of Education.

“It was fascinating to be there because it’s not a K-12 system, it’s a P-20 system, where higher education is included. It was wonderful. I traded 300,000 kids for 3 million kids. And now I have half a million kids. It’s been good to come back home to Nevada and visit schools around the state. A lot of the students have been singing ‘Home Means Nevada,’ and it’s been great.”

During a parent/community session, Ebert asked, “As parents, grandparents, board members – what keeps you up at night about education?”

“Underfunded,” was the answer from many. 

“It’s an epidemic,” said Mike Chopp, school board member. “I never realized how difficult it is to go out and find a teacher. Or to even get people to go into it at the college level.” 

Chopp added, “It’s also bothersome to see the constant promise of the marijuana money. All these promises are going into education, but it never hits anywhere. There’s no fulfillment.”

One parent said, “Walking through the schools, I see what the teachers and kids must go through due to under-funding, many times buying their own supplies; the “pay-to-play” athletics, and paying sponsors so the kids can participate.”

“I don’t think there should be any limits on what these kids can do,” said Chopp, a millwright by trade. “The schools do not do enough with the trades for students. My teachers are why I am who I am today. One of my sons is a millwright and one is an electrician. There are hundreds of thousands of apprenticeships out there.” 

Doug Staton, first term school board trustee, said, “There needs to be a better partnership with Great Basin College, and we need programs for the kids who don’t want an associate’s degree, who’d rather to go to the mines and make good money.”

Ebert asked if the Jump Start Program with Great Basin College was moving forward and Superintendent Russ Klein said it was.

Senate Bill 543 (2019) created the 11-member Commission on School Funding to guide the work of the Department of Education to revamp Nevada's K-12 education funding formula for the first time in over a half-century, and Ebert asked if everyone was caught up on the funding piece and what transpired.

Superintendent Russell Klein shared that a real concern was that they would lose their net proceeds. 

“In a community our size,” said Klein, “that high school is going to need to be replaced at some point. And for us to come up with $50 million, there’s just no way. So that threat of us losing those proceeds will be catastrophic to our community.” 

Ebert stated, “It’s very important for everybody to know that you have, locally, Dave Jensen on the commission, the superintendent of Humboldt County School District. He’s a great human being and also has the same concern. Initially, the first draft of the bill put out into the legislative session took all funding within the entire state and put it into one pot. The second version pulled out the net proceeds.”

Klein said, “The final version, as I understand it, says the state takes everything, but then they re-issue back to those who had it. But say we get $13 million, they take $8 million proceeds, and then give us the remaining $5 million. So in other words, we’ve lost any benefit we would have had of net proceeds. Right now, if our net proceeds supersede the state funding, we get the additional amount. Under this new program, it looks like we will not,” said Klein. “No matter how much our net proceeds are, it will simply be absorbed, and we’ll just get whatever the total regular amount would be.”

Ebert said, “We will sit down and explore that, because that is not our interpretation of it.”

Asked about the marijuana money, Ebert stated, “The marijuana money initially was put into a rainy day fund. Everyone around the state was wondering where the marijuana money went; it wasn’t going directly into general fund, and now in this legislative session they did make that change. Moving forward, 100% will go – $50 million – into education.” 

Staton noted, “My concern is room tax money was supposed to go into education, too. And they put all the room tax money into education. Then they debited money out of the general fund they were supposed to put into education. It supplanted; it did not supplement. And that’s where we’ve run into problems; they come up with these great initiatives, they tie it to education so everybody’s on board, but then no one finds out until years later that all they did was replace money from the general fund to go to something else. It’s not adding any money to our funding.”  

Regarding the Nevada Plan itself, Ebert said she took a whole semester to be able to be an administrator for finance in Nevada, and the plan is 52 years old and does not identify that a third of all students are English language learners.

Ebert explained, “Right now in the funding model there is no wait for those students, and we know they need additional resources to be able to meet the goal of a diploma. We all have the same goal; and children, depending on their needs, require various levels of funding. With the commission coming up with those waits, we now do four differently abled students, school districts also receive additional funds if you have gifted and talented students, there are not any waits for English language learners, free or reduced lunch or those who are impoverished. That shift will happen with the commission. There are still the adjustments for small schools, adjustment for small school district, as well as cost of living. At my coming back to the state, the cost of living piece was something that when they modeled, people wanted to circle back on, and so that’s what they’ll be doing. When the commission goes through and makes their determination on all those adjustments and waits, we’ll run what is currently allocated for education through that model. Transparency. Everyone can see how that runs across the state. It’s hard to say right now ‘what is what’ until you actually see those models running. Our deputy superintendent over finance is leading that work with the 11-member commission as well as our team.”

Ebert added, “You have great leadership here who shows concern; who says, ‘This is what my students need each and every day in the community,’ and I very much appreciate his leadership and conversation. You’re very fortunate in that way. But I’m doing the listening tour so I can hear directly from parents.” 

Staton pointed out, “The last model I saw in March, Clark County was the only school district in the state that benefits from the new funding formula. Every other school district in the state takes a hit, with Washoe taking the smallest hit, and us and Eureka and Esmeralda taking the biggest hit.”

Ebert said, “That was a model that was not complete. Applied Analysis who did that work did the best job they could with what information they had. And that’s why we need to take this time to bring it all together and truly run it.”

The commission has a tight deadline of May to get it up and running and by statute must have their product out. 

Klein clarified, “We get our funding under the old system still for two years, but we’re supposed to run as if what would happen if we implemented the new formula; what would it look like.”

Todd Thompson, D.D.S., said as a school board member for the past nine years, what he would like is consistency. “There’s nothing worse than trying to formulate a budget for the next year when you have no clue what’s going on; so hopefully, this new system will be more consistent. Always guessing, ‘Can I hire another teacher?’ Because in a district of this size, that is extremely difficult. It’s difficult to even find people, and if we don’t know until the last minute?”

Klein said the board approved to double the preschool, but they could not find a teacher, yet they have the funding there.

Thompson said that’s another issue that is epidemic throughout the nation – teaching in general. “We as a society have to get together on this issue about finance,” stated Thompson, “because that’s really, at the end of the day, what it is, finance. Encourage people to be in education.”

Ebert agreed it was a national issue and said that California produced the majority of teachers in the western states, and there are 50% fewer students in the last five years.

Chopp reiterated it is difficult to encourage students to become teachers in this area because there are higher-paying trades, nursing programs, mines and industry.

“Right now, I would never recommend my kid become a teacher,” said Chopp. “Why would I, when he is going to struggle through life with student loans and debt?”

Ebert posed the question, “Would you support free education for teachers?”

Chopp said, “Show me how it’s going to be paid for,” and many agreed. 

Staton added, “All of the candidates who are right now running say health care for all, no medical debt, education for all, no student loan debt; it sounds like a utopian panacea and no one has been able to show me yet where the money will come from. You can’t, in good conscience, recommend to a kid to go to school to become a teacher for five years if you come out of school with $60K to $80K in student debt, and then you can come to Battle Mountain. We’re one of the top-paying school districts in the state and we start at $42K per year.”

“How do we think differently about this pandemic problem?” asked Ebert. 

“We have to do good by our teachers so they will recommend it,” said Thompson.

Ebert suggested a scholarship specifically for education, and Klein said possibly, if there were something from the governor’s level that stated ‘free college tuition if you’re going to be a teacher.’ 

Chopp said, “Or maybe a bonus, like the medical students. Each year we pay so much of your student debt. A long-term, with some incentive, and that may be where there’s some federal money, too. Our goal is to be the highest-paying school district in the state; that way, if we want somebody, we can go down and get them.”

Data privacy was another worrying issue mentioned. Data breaches, companies who data-mine students, clickbait and the long-term effects on kids whose information is compromised. 

Ebert asked if parents know what they can do to help, and Staton, who is also a substitute teacher, answered, “I don’t think everybody is as savvy as they should be.”

Staton spoke as a parent and a teacher, “I’m all in favor of professional development. We’re asking our teachers to teach. We’re asking our teachers to be emotional bedrocks. We’re asking our teachers to make sure the kids aren’t bullying one another to where one of them might commit suicide. We’re asking our teachers to be aware of gender fluidity and using the proper pronouns. We’ve put so many jobs on them. And a big part of their evaluation is standardized testing and how well their kids progress. Why don’t we just let our teachers teach? And leave some of the other jobs for Mom and Dad or the social worker who’s already in the school. Maybe if we gave them a little more money and a little less burden, we might have more teachers coming into the classroom.” 

Ebert agreed, and said an important part of the listening tour is listening to the teachers, who gave her some ideas about how they envision the classroom. “And they just want to teach,” said Ebert. “Anything we can do to ensure they have more time for working with the students. It’s going to take a little bit of time for us to analyze what is out there that is not moving the achievement of our students forward.” 

Ebert said she was appreciative of all the ideas and concerns shared with her on this segment of her listening tour, and said she is taking away some good ideas.