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Potential savings for Clark County School District in millions, study says

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Paul Takahashi

Greg Gibson, president of Austin-based efficiency company Gibson Consulting Group, discusses the findings of a three-month, privately-funded study into how the Clark County School District can streamline its operations during a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011.

Updated Friday, Sept. 9, 2011 | 12:53 a.m.

The Clark County School District could save $162 million over five years by implementing a bevy of cost-cutting measures, according to a study released Wednesday.

The efficiency study looked at ways the nation’s fifth-largest school district could streamline operations and teaching. The hope is that by implementing these cost-saving measures, the School District can allocate more resources to the classroom and persuade state legislators to reconsider education funding in the future.

“We have got to figure out as a community and state where we should make more investment of scarce resources, especially if we can become more efficient in how we’re using our resources now,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said at a news conference Wednesday morning.

The three-month efficiency study was privately funded by the UCLA Dream Foundation and conducted by Gibson Consulting Group, an Austin, Texas-based educational research company.

Although potential savings are good news for the cash-strapped district, implementing all the changes would cost tens of millions of dollars. Jones and other School District officials are reviewing the study’s suggestions.

Gibson looked at the district’s $2.1 billion general-fund operating budget, analyzed operations and management data, visited sites, interviewed more than 250 employees and held focus groups with principals and staff.

The group compared Clark County’s student performance with three school districts with similar student demographics: Houston Independent School District and Florida’s Broward County and Miami-Dade County public schools.

Gibson outlined its findings in a 272-page report. It found that although the School District faced numerous challenges — massive expansion, declining revenue and changing student demographics — its peer districts are performing better with more challenges.

“We cannot use our demographics as an excuse,” Jones said. “We’ve got peer districts that have (more) disadvantaged students that are far outachieving what we’re doing right now.

“We’ve got to be pretty honest: We ought to be doing better.”

Gibson found that although Clark County has a number of efficient departments, there are more opportunities to cut costs by eliminating redundant programs and services. Gibson outlined $226.6 million in savings; however, it would be offset by $60.5 million in infrastructure upgrades.

“We’ve just been doing stuff, and in most cases, we don’t even know if the stuff we’ve been doing has yielded results or not,” Jones said. “The study … solidified what we already thought, but now it’s making it more concrete.”

Some of Gibson’s findings and recommendations:

• Clark County uses many educational programs and tools to measure student performance, which complicates student transfers and data analysis. Gibson recommends adopting a standard assessment tool that can be used at the student and district level, and getting rid of educational programs that do not meet curriculum standards set by the state.

• Clark County uses an obsolete human resources information system that requires “extensive manual and paper intensive processes.” Gibson recommends implementing a $10 million system.

• Clark County uses an outdated student information system no longer supported by its vendor and “cannot support long-term needs to measure student performance.” Gibson recommends replacing the system, which is expected to cost $23 million over five years.

• Clark County’s custodial staff cleans and maintains more square feet on average than peer districts; however, because of higher pay and benefits, Clark County’s spends more — $2.34 a square foot — than the industry average of $1.59. Gibson recommends outsourcing custodial services if labor negotiations do not result in lowered costs, which would save $10.4 million.

• Although the School District has “become increasingly more efficient with extensive staggering of bell schedules,” bus driver rules provide for more paid time per day than is needed for some drivers, and it has more supervisory staff than average. Gibson recommends changing the rules, saving $5.6 million a year or outsourcing transportation, potentially saving $11 million a year.

• Clark County’s energy management program has “saved hundreds of millions of dollars to date,” but the School District could do more. Gibson recommends retrofitting classroom lights, installing room sensors, optimizing heating and cooling systems and installing solar panels to save $41.8 million over five years.

Finding $60.5 million to implement all of Gibson’s recommendations will be difficult for the School District, which faces a $56 million deficit this year. Greg Gibson, the president of the consulting company, said funding for some of these initiatives can come from private sources, the general fund for nonrecurring expenses and energy-financing for the energy management program.

Jones was vague about which initiatives he might implement first, but said he would hold community and union meetings to determine which measures hold the most potential for “return on investment.”

Jones said he plans to focus on funding measures that would support teachers and students, such as professional development, literacy programs and reducing class sizes.

The Gibson report had unions spooked Thursday. John Carr, the president of the support staff union, said he received many calls from members about a few of Gibson’s recommendations that called for outsourcing custodial and transportation services.

“This report has people terrorized within the district,” he said. “People are petrified.”

Talks about outsourcing union positions is a delicate subject as the Education Support Employees Association continues to negotiate concessions with the School District. The two groups will hold their fifth meeting Sept. 15.

Jones told the union in a Thursday morning call that outsourcing is not an option he’s considering at this point, Carr said. Still, Carr said, he was disappointed with the Gibson report, which he felt attacked lower-paid staff, did not consider the quality and quantity of custodial work and called for more spending.

“The district is so top heavy, but this report only talks about cutting teachers and support staff at the bottom of the food chain,” Carr said. “You can’t just look at the bottom group who makes the least and not look at the top who makes the most.”

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