Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

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School Board deliberates solutions to school overcrowding


Justin M. Bowen

Arthur Gamboa leads a discussion with his 38 students in his Modern Literature class at Palo Verde High School Wednesday, May 11, 2011.

Overcrowded Classrooms

Dedra Steinline has her class of 36 take shifts at the microscopes due to her large class size at Palo Verde High School Wednesday, May 11, 2011. Launch slideshow »

To alleviate its overcrowded campuses, the Clark County School District will take a closer look at the idea of building temporary schools using portable classroom, restroom and cafeteria facilities.

During a lengthy discussion Thursday night, the School Board deliberated six potential solutions to its overcrowding issues, including major rezoning and converting schools to year-round schedules. The board is expected to vote on a final solution at its Jan. 9 meeting.

The School District plans to host a community meeting in the interim to discuss various options with families living in the southwest valley, which is experiencing an influx of new students.

As master-planned communities such as Mountain's Edge have restarted stalled housing projects, student enrollment has skyrocketed in the southwest valley.

Currently, five southwest valley elementary schools are bursting at the seams with enrollments topping 1,000 students. The district anticipates continued growth of about 600 students per year in that region.

School Board member Carolyn Edwards, who represents the southwest valley, said schools such as Forbuss, Reedom and Wright need immediate relief. As the housing market begins to to improve, other neighborhoods in the valley may soon experience overcrowding as well, she added.

"Right now, this impacts the southwest part of the valley the most, but it will affect all of us when the economy comes back," she said. "This problem's not going to go away."

The idea of portable schools received the broadest support among School Board members Thursday night. These so called "pop-up schools" or "portable cities" are nothing new in Las Vegas and across the nation.

When some campuses – such as Booker Elementary School – were being built, those students were housed in portable classrooms on other campuses. States such as California and Florida have also experimented with portable schools.

These campuses would be built on sites designated for new permanent elementary schools. There are currently three such sites in the southwest valley, earmarked by the Bureau of Land Management for future Clark County schools.

A temporary elementary school could be built for about $8 million, according to preliminary estimates. About half of that cost would come from utility hookups, parking spaces and other ancillary construction that could be reused for permanent school buildings.

Portable schools could be constructed in less than a year, or less than half the time it takes to construct a new permanent school. They are also much cheaper to build, with three portable schools completed for the price of one permanent school. Students from existing schools would need to be rezoned to a portable campus, however.

"I think we should explore the portable elementary school concept," School Board member Chris Garvey said, adding it was a cost-effective idea. School Board members Lorraine Alderman and Linda Young agreed.

Edwards said she didn't like the idea of portable campuses however. She didn't see her constituents living in Mountain's Edge, Southern Highlands and Rhodes Ranch being in favor of sending their children to portable schools.

"I can tell people are thinking outside of the box, but it's not one that appeals to me," she said. "Parents won't want to do this. They won't want to go from a beautiful campus to a portable."

Instead, Edwards was in favor of creating a new magnet or gifted school on an existing campus near the southwest valley, which could attract students away from overcrowded campuses. Currently, all the district's magnet schools are in the northern valley.

In addition, a new portable campus wouldn't be opened in time for the coming school year, Edwards said. In the meantime, schools such as Forbuss and Wright could see student enrollment hit upwards of 1,400 students.

"We can't wait," Edwards said. "It's very hard for me to sit here with the overcrowding and portables."

School Board members largely dismissed other more controversial options, such as running double sessions and relocating fifth-graders to satellite portable campuses.

Major rezoning was hotly debated among board members. Although the district rezones some neighborhoods each year, a massive rezoning that potentially affects thousands of students and families hasn't been undertaken since the early 1990s.

"People bought in those communities for the schools," School Board President Young said. "If I bought in those areas, I would want my kids close to those schools as much as possible."

Rezoning is highly unpopular among families who wish to keep their children at their neighborhood schools and with their friends. The annual minor rezoning efforts are so fraught with tension, hitting the rezoning reset button could portend political suicide for proponents.

Some board members were fearless however.

School Board member Deanna Wright called for a district-wide rezoning. Edwards and outgoing School Board member Rene Cantu also supported a reset on current attendance zones.

"We're so out of whack (with the current school attendance zones) that I think it's a legitimate idea," Edwards said.

Garvey disagreed: "I would not be on board for total revamping at this point," she said. "That is too much stress on families and staff."

Reverting to a year-round schedule also merited a lot of discussion. The district reverted from a 12-month to a nine month calendar at the end of the 2010-11 school year to save $20 million.

"We know how to do year round, and we do it well," Edwards said. "I don't like year-round and parents don't like year-round, but it gives us more capacity so I believe it has to be considered."

Charles Hauntz, whose two grandchildren attend Forbuss Elementary School, said that while he was against rezoning, he would support year-round schools.

"Traffic is horrendous," the school volunteer said. "Maybe converting to year-round would help."

Alderman wasn't too keen on the idea of reverting to a year-round schedule however.

"I wouldn't be in support of year-round until its the last resort," she said.

Mountain's Edge resident Brane Delic, who has two children attending Wright, also said he opposed a year-round schedule. He was adamant that School Board members hold a public meeting to discuss these options with the community.

"This is a very, very important issue," he said.

School Board members agreed to wait for more community input before proceeding. However, Garvey reminded her fellow board members about how the public voted on the district's tax initiative last month. Passage of Question 2 would have renovated more than 40 schools and funded the construction of two new elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding in the southwest valley.

"They told us they weren't ready to pony up," she said of the voters' overwhelming rejection of Question 2. "As cruel as it sounds, there are consequences for not voting for Question 2."

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