Las Vegas Sun

September 3, 2015

Currently: 98° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

School District awaits word on impact of final budget

Updated Friday, June 3, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.

Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez

Clark County School District officials were waiting to hear Friday how much the district’s budget will be cut for the next two years after Gov. Brian Sandoval and legislative leaders reached agreement on a state budget.

Legislators could vote as early as Saturday on the final funding package, School District Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler said.

Last month the School Board approved a budget that anticipated a $407.4 million deficit and included 1,834 layoffs. That was a worst-case scenario based on budget projections before the announcement of Wednesday’s deal. The actual cuts could be less and depend in part on a complex formula to distribute state dollars to school districts.

“We don’t think the worst-case scenario applies anymore, but we don’t know what the number is going to be,” Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Pedro Martinez said.

Meantime, district officials were attempting to grasp the significance of the budget agreement, which could lead to fewer layoffs and smaller-than-expected class sizes. Despite the potentially improved revenue picture Martinez was circumspect.

“Our schools, compared to other districts throughout the country, are in a very low-funded district,” he said. “There are districts in the East that get double what we get. Budget cutting always creates an additional challenge, but the superintendent and I feel we don’t want that to be an excuse.”

Under the budget deal, schoolteachers could see a reported 2.5 percent salary reduction and could be required to pay 5.3 percent of their salaries toward their retirement benefits.

Despite such uncertainty, Martinez and Superintendent Dwight Jones spoke this week of players at every level of the 37,000 employee School District taking greater personal and professional responsibility for student performance.

They stressed the shift in the approach of administrators, principals, teachers and students to boost sudden performance and graduation rates, a change that would essentially find them doing more with less. Both men think that enhanced results can occur through more efficient spending and better deployment of district personnel.

“Even with the cuts the question remains — how do we challenge the talent we have?” Martinez says. “We have some pockets of success around the district, the county. We don’t believe that the resources have been aligned as they should be.”

In the days leading to the budget agreement, School District officials spoke of ways to best use funding, with Martinez pointing to one relatively low-cost effort. It would create transition teams to monitor students as they move from elementary to middle to high schools to higher education.

Teams of teachers and administrators would discuss the challenges faced by academically challenged students. Little if any communication about individual student performance exists among schools as students graduate to the next level.

One result: UNLV President Neal Smatresk speaks of the high number of basic high school math and English courses needed for Clark County School District graduates at the university — as much as 40 percent of the district’s graduates need to retake basic English classes and 70 percent must redo math.

Meantime, Jones and Martinez have adopted a new formula to determine the district’s high school graduation rate that is expected to lower this past year’s figure from 68 percent to 51 percent, a number they say reflects reality. The goal is to establish true accountability for the failure of students, a troubling reality that finds just 1 in 10 ninth-graders eventually earning a bachelor’s degree, or about half the national average. The number is significantly lower for Hispanic and black students.

“When I look at those numbers and the demographic shift in our state,” Martinez says, “I tell our principals that if we don’t change these data points our children aren’t going to have the standard of living we want them to have.”

A recent Jones’ report said, “The costs of not educating all students well are significant. The economic costs are apparent in increased needs for unemployment and welfare, health and human services, and corrections. Less apparent are the costs of the growing distance between groups of individuals, between those who benefit more in our society and those who typically benefit less.”

Martinez said the district is building financial relationships with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, the latter funded by home developer Eli Broad that funds a 10-month training academy for CEOs and senior executives seeking to become school superintendents. Martinez, a certified public accountant with a master’s in business administration, is a graduate of the academy who was hired by the Chicago public schools system.

The Gates Foundation gave $21 million to the Chicago school district in 2006 to establish more challenging high school curriculum, boost graduation rates and better prepare students for high school. At the time it was the foundation’s largest gift to a school district.

The Broad Foundation has given millions of dollars to the Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City public school districts, with the money targeting low-income students and public charter schools.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy