Rheault named superintendent of public schools

Mon, Feb 23, 2004 (9:44 a.m.)

Keith Rheault, acting superintendent of Nevada's public schools, was appointed to the full position Saturday by the state Board of Education in a 6-4 vote.

The board voted to appoint Rheault, an 18-year veteran of the department, after a brief review of six applications. There was no public discussion of the board member's impressions of the applicants and no interviews.

Rheault said Sunday he was surprised to be appointed outright, although he knew it was a possibility allowed under state statute.

"Coming from an agricultural background I wasn't going to count my chickens before they hatched," Rheault said.

As superintendent Rheault said his priorities will be to ensure Nevada's schools are in a position to comply with the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and that the state's 17 school districts have the resources and support needed to meet those demands.

The four board members who voted against the direct appointment -- Patrick Boylan, John Gwaltney, John Hawk and Merv Iverson -- made it clear that they did so out of discomfort with the process and not because of a lack of confidence in Rheault's abilities. An interview should have been conducted prior to the vote, they said.

Rheault said he planned to talk with the four board members who voted against the motion to hear their concerns before formally accepting the appointment.

At Saturday's meeting Hawk said the appropriate path would be to invite Rheault to come before the board at the March meeting to answer questions about his philosophy, approach and vision for the future of K-12 education in Nevada, Hawk said. Board member Marcia Washington, who made the motion to appoint Rheault, disagreed, noting that Rheault had been performing the duties of superintendent as interim since Jack McLaughlin retired Jan. 31.

But Gwaltney said being the interim superintendent is not the same as having the full responsibilities of the job.

"The distance between the No. 1 chair and the No. 2 chair isn't just across the hall, it's miles away," said Gwaltney.

Board member Barbara Myers, who seconded the motion to appoint Rheault, said that inviting a single candidate to appear before the board wasn't an interview. With Rheault the only substantive candidate, and his background and abilities well-known to the board, an outright appointment makes sense, Myers said.

Board President Gary Waters, who spearheaded the push for board members to see the applications for the first time in an open meeting, conceded Saturday the format may have discouraged some people from applying.

But it was still the right way to go, Waters said.

"It's never been done this way in the history of this state, as far as I can tell," Waters said. "This is a truly public process, the way I think it should always be -- out in the open."

The small pool of candidates was blamed on the salary -- $107,433 annually, an amount set by the Legislature. Clark County Schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia earns $212,242 annually. As well, the state board voted in December to limit their search to advertisements and not use a recruiting firm.

In addition to Rheault, the applicants included a community college teacher who did not have a degree required for the job, an elementary school teacher, and two high school teachers. Another candidate, a former official with the U.S. Education Department, pulled out of the running, Waters said.

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