Las Vegas Tribune

August 30, 1999

By Steve Miller

Why is Nevada government poverty-stricken?

When Kenny Guinn was elected Governor last year he inherited two things from his predecessor Bob Miller: a one hundred and forty-one million-dollar deficit, and Gov. Miller's campaign manager Sig Rogich. Since that election our state continues to suffer shortfalls in funding for such vital services as police, road construction, and schools.

Dr. Brian Cram, Clark County Superintendent of Schools, recently reported that our district lacks over one thousand teachers and has insufficient funds to purchase new school busses or build new facilities. Our older schools are on double sessions or are operating on year round schedules. Schools in our newer neighborhoods do not suffer proportionately and seem to be better funded -- possibly because of the political influence of developers and homebuilders who contribute generously to decision makers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Cram has announced that this will be his last year as Superintendent and that his goal is to make sure that enough new teachers are hired. He has also complained that other states are enticing our teachers away with monetary incentives our state government cannot match. A Blue Ribbon Committee has been formed to search for a new Clark Co. School Superintendent.

Is there something missing in the above scenario? You bet there is! Where does Nevada's principal industry stand in helping us to resolve our state's education funding shortfall?

The MGM recently gifted the City of Detroit $50 million to help minority owned businesses. Steve Wynn, the Boyd Group, Mandolay Resorts, and other Nevada based corporations are eager to dole out gaming taxes of 13% in Biloxi, 8.5% in Atlantic City, and 18% in Detroit while paying a measly 6.25% in Nevada. These companies are members of the politically powerful Nevada Resort Association.

How did Nevada become the gambling industry's stepchild?

While our Nevada schools go begging for funds, no one ever mentions that sources other than bonding, property taxes, or sales taxes can be tapped to pay for education. Our Superintendent of Schools is the most appropriate person to be the one to suggest a new source of school funding but is consistently silent on the issue.

I have often heard Dr. Cram speak of the monetary needs of our schools and I recall his saying that the source of such funding could include issuing bonds, or raising property or sales taxes. I do not recall Dr. Cram ever mentioning other alternatives. The suggestion that Nevada's gambling tax might be due for an adjustment was conspicuous by its absence.

Now a committee has been formed to search for a new Superintendent. This committee is composed of community leaders including political consultant Sig Rogich. Mr. Rogich is famous for his ability to raise campaign money from Strip casinos for his political candidates.

I believe that one of the major qualifications to be sought by Mr. Rogich of our next Superintendent of Schools is silence on the issue of new funding sources. Mr. Rogich is a well-known lobbyist for the casino industry and I cannot imagine him favoring a Superintendent candidate whom dares mention raising the sacred Nevada gaming tax to fund education! This tax has not been adjusted in over ten years and Governor Guinn and Mayor Goodman have expressed no desire to discuss the issue.

Where does the news media stand on the issue of funding for education? In most cases little or nothing has been said or printed on the subject of tapping our casino revenues to pay for schools and new teachers. With the exception of articles written by Review Journal education columnist Ken Ward or quotes from State Senator Joe Neal, most Nevadans are brainwashed into thinking that the casinos are already paying their fair share.

One of our town's biggest buyers of TV, radio, billboard, and print advertisement is R&R Partners. R&R stands for Rogich and Rogich, a father and son team that once owned the agency. Political consultant Billy Vassilliadis bought the business and now heads the company with Rogich often seen hovering in the background.

It has been proven time and again that Las Vegas media is timid when it comes to exposing issues that might affect the bottom line of our town's major advertisers or their ad agencies. Local ad agencies are not shy when it comes to expressing their displeasure to media outlets about news stories that affect their clients. Billy Vassilliadis is well known for taking temper tantrums in news director's offices when one of his clients is the subject of an adverse story. An adverse story about R&R client Sunrise Hospital that was reportedly killed at Channel 8 comes to mind.

R&R enjoys a $27 million dollar per year contract with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority while Mr. Vassilliadis and Mr. Rogich are responsible for the political futures of several of the Authority members. The Authority is funded by room taxes mostly generated on the Strip through hotels that belong to the Nevada Resort Association. The N. R. A. is adamantly opposed to increases in the Nevada Gaming Tax, and Rogich and Vassiliadas are often seen carrying their banner.

Does it appear that there could be possible conflict of interests in the fact that Sig Rogich is about to be involved in the choice of our next Clark County Superintendent of Schools? Could there be an incestuous relationship developing between our schools and Strip casinos that do not want reasons to be mentioned for raising their taxes? Ask Sig Rogich.

Las Vegas just received the dubious honor of having the worst grades in quality of education from Zero Population Growth, a nonprofit organization that studies population issues. This study was released nationally and our school district is reeling from its findings. Our teacher population is among the lowest paid in the US, and teacher attrition is well above average. Our high school drop out rates are also among the nation's highest at 16.3% of our students opting to leave school before graduation, possibly to take low paying jobs in the casino service industry.

This all means that Nevada's university system is also under funded and is not keeping up with quality standards enjoyed in our neighboring states. This fact is also not surprising since so many jobs in the casino industry do not require a college education.

Where does this leave the average Nevada resident? For those that care to pay attention, the future of Nevada education looks bleak. With "community leaders" such as Sig Rogich being allowed to sit on a committee assigned the important task of selecting the new spokesman for Las Vegas' educational needs, I feel that quality of education in our town and state will continue to diminish because of inadequate funding.

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and is the State Coordinator of the Nevada Coalition Against Gambling Expansion. Visit his website at: