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August 21, 2014

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UPDATE: School district might remove bond measure from ballot

(Originally posted at 11:06 a.m.) The Clark County School Board will meet Friday at 9 a.m. to give final approval for removing the $9.5 billion construction bond measure from the November ballot.

In a surprising move this morning, the Clark County School Board voted to withdraw its bond measure from the November ballot, citing lower-than-expected enrollment growth and a shaky economy that could erode voter support.

The decision comes as analysts predict record lows in the percentage of new students for the next few years. Coupled with a slowing economy, the time isn't right to ask the public to support a bond of such magnitude, said Joyce Haldeman, deputy superintendent of community and government relations.

The announcement came at a work session of the Clark County School Board. On a 5-2 vote, the School Board gave preliminary approval to Haldeman's recommendation to withdraw the ballot question. School Board members Larry Mason and Shirley Barber were opposed. The board originally voted to address the issue at its July 24 meeting, but shortly after the vote district staff learned that state law sets a July 21 deadline for withdrawing ballot questions. That forced the School Board to reopen the discussion on the matter and approve an earlier meeting date.

Friday's meeting will be held at the Greer Education Center, 2832 E. Flamingo Rd.

The agenda item for today's meeting states only that the School Board would discuss the schedule and implementation of campaign activities related to the proposed bond measure. There is no indication in the agenda that the outright cancellation of the campaign was a possibility, said member Ruth Johnson. Given those facts, Johnson told her colleagues the final vote should be put off until next week.

"We need to give the public a chance to respond and provide input," Johnson said.

The new plan would be to go back to voters in 2010, and issue short-term bonds as an extension of the 1998 capital plan to pay for necessary construction. That could raise as much as $200 million annually.

The upside is a message to voters that the district is being cautious with their money -- and preserving their trust, Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said at this morning's meeting.

"Waiting the two years, when we can extend the resources we have, does clearly establish our fiscal integrity with the public when we do go back and ask for another bond," Rulffes said.

School Board President Mary Beth Scow said she appreciated the hard work of the district staff, and the careful evaluation that preceded the recommendation. At the same time, Scow said she believed voters would have supported the bond measure, had the district gone forward.

For the 2007-08 academic year, the district actually finished with 4,281 fewer students than were enrolled in September. The district is currently predicting enrollment growth of about 1.5 percent for the 2008-09 academic year, or about 5,000 more students. That would put the district's total enrollment at just over 309,000. Five years ago, the district had expected to have more than 314,000 students by the fall of 2008.

The $3.5 billion 1998 capital campaign has built 99 new schools and replaced 11 campuses.

School Board member Sheila Moulton expressed concern about the impact of the canceled bond measure on the local construction industry. Haldeman said the extension of the 1998 program would mean some construction projects would still move forward, even if it's not at the breakneck pace that's dominated for the past decade.

"Are we going to turn off the spigot and these people are going to all dry up and blow away? Absolutely not," Haldeman said.

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