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April 25, 2015

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Floored by defeat, School District in ‘best-we-can-do’ repair mode


Leila Navidi

Principal Tim Adams of Rex Bell Elementary School checks out a roof leak on school grounds in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011.

Lincoln Elementary

Principal Jennifer Newton talks about the extensive repairs needed at Lincoln Elementary School Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Schools Double Up After AC System Fails

A welcome sign for Diskin Elementary School students is posted at the front of Decker Elementary School on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. About 700 Diskin students were temporarily transferred to Decker on Wednesday after the 39-year-old school's air-conditioning system failed on Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

As the shock of the defeat of Question 2 settled in Wednesday morning, the Clark County School District was left wondering: Why, and what now?

Voters overwhelmingly rejected Tuesday the School District's proposal to temporarily increase property taxes to fund high-priority renovations and technology upgrades at 40 aging schools, replace two deteriorating schools and construct two new schools to alleviate overcrowding.

The tax initiative failed with two-thirds of voters saying no to Question 2, which came as a surprise to district leaders. Voters hadn't turned down the district's capital proposals since 1985.

"I was floored," School Board Vice President Deanna Wright said. "I didn't know it would pass, but I thought it would have a little more support."

Deanna Wright

Deanna Wright

Immediately, district officials pointed to the economic downturn as the key factor in the initiative's failure. Across the state, Nevada voters spurned every tax proposal presented to them, including a Henderson Library District initiative that would have raised money to keep two library branches open.

"These economic times are so difficult right now," Joyce Haldeman, the district's associate superintendent of community and government relations, said shortly after the vote was announced Tuesday. "The message we got tonight was, 'Not yet.'"

However, there were other factors that led to Question 2's failure, notably timing. The School District simply ran out of time to make its case to voters, and, partially, the blame falls on the School Board.

Although School Board members heard a presentation about the district's mounting maintenance needs in late December 2011, it didn't make a decision to pursue the capital improvement plan until early June — six months later.

During those six months, the School Board mulled whether voters had an appetite for a tax hike. The board had previously passed over the opportunity to ask voters for more capital money in 2008 and 2010 because of the recession.

This time, the School Board — with the help of a political action committee headed by four former first ladies of Nevada — commissioned a survey of likely voters. The results, which found some support for the tax, were released in late April.

Two months later, the School Board finally pulled the trigger. However, with just five months before Election Day, the district's PAC struggled to raise enough money in time for an effective campaign.

Even while countless other political candidates had their signs up months earlier, the School District's red and white "Vote Yes on Question 2" signs were hardly visible. When the PAC finally raised enough money to have R&R Partners create a TV advertisement, all TV spots were bought out just weeks before the election.

"Certainly, if we started earlier, we might have had more success," Haldeman contended Wednesday morning.

Even though the tax initiative failed, the need to address the maintenance issues at these schools and others across the valley persists, district officials said Wednesday. These schools will continue to face heating, cooling and electrical system failures as well as leaking roofs and overcrowded classrooms.

"Every time there is a system failure in the future, the trustees will have to react to that," Haldeman said. "We're not in a mode where we get to be proactive. We're in the mode now that we do the best we can."

With Tuesday's vote, the district lost the potential to raise up to $720 million in additional tax dollars to fix its high-need schools before it regains its capacity to issue bonds in 2018. This six-year, pay-as-you-go plan would have bridged the district's needs until that time.

Question 2's failure may portend unpopular and drastic decisions in the future, options such as reverting to a year-round school calendar and school closures.

Rex Bell Elementary School

Principal Tim Adams of Rex Bell Elementary School checks out a roof leak on school grounds in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011. Launch slideshow »

"We take school closures very seriously," said Haldeman, who declined to say how many schools could be in danger of this worst-case scenario. "It will only be done if there are no other options. We will do the best we can to keep these schools open and functioning."

The district uses the Facilities Condition Index to determine its maintenance and renovation needs. The FCI is an industry measure of a building's health that takes into account the cost of repairs and replacement.

Basically, if the cost to repair a school exceeds its replacement cost, it becomes more cost-effective for the district to close, tear down and rebuild a new school.

Currently, a third of the district's 357 schools have an FCI that is high enough that the district must consider moderate or major rehabilitation, said Tim Strucely, the district's director of capital programs. Nine of these schools are in need of replacements soon.

However, as the recession ravaged Las Vegas, the district was forced to whittle its maintenance budget. In a district with 6,000 air conditioning units, there are just six technicians to maintain them, Haldeman said.

Moreover, the district spends less on maintenance per square foot than peer urban districts such as Miami-Dade, Fla. Clark County, with more than 311,000 students, spends less than half the money on maintenance than does the San Jose, Calif., school district serving 32,000 students.

The majority of the district's $262 million maintenance fund goes to salaries and benefits for maintenance staff. Just a little more than a third of this maintenance budget — about $97 million — goes directly to school maintenance, such as parts for repairs.

Ideally, the district should be spending $200 million each year just on facilities to maintain their current FCI levels, Strucely said. The tax initiative would have generated an additional $80 million each year to fund school repairs.

Even with the additional tax dollars, the district would allocate $177 million — still $33 million less than the recommended maintenance spending.

Without the additional tax dollars for capital improvements or additional maintenance funding, more and more schools will fall into disrepair.

"That really puts us in a bind," Strucely said. "If we don't have a program to replace (failing systems), the FCI (of schools) gets worse at an accelerated rate."

Since the majority of maintenance funds comes from the District's $2 billion general fund budget, more money could be diverted from the classroom to fix dilapidated schools in the future. And that could jeopardize the district's efforts to continue boosting graduation rates and student achievement.

"The true pain from this will be placed on staff and students in these schools. That's who's going to suffer," Wright said. "This will be devastating for Clark County, and it will be felt for the next six, eight years."

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  1. Proposition 30 ballot measure, which spared massive budget cuts and tuition increases, won with 54% of California voters -- nearly 60% in L.A. County.

    The intelligence and technology in California is the engine that drives it's success beyond most countries in the world. The foundation of that engine is education. This State focuses on cutting education budgets and using dilapidated buildings, hot and sweaty with missing ceiling tiles as the master plan for success.

    From the Nevada Development Authority site comes the following statement: "Education is a top priority--the area is home to 357 schools and is the fifth largest school district in the United States." Top priority? "Bring your kids here and get them inked" is the more realistic motto.

    Heres another: "It's no surprise that Southern Nevada leads the nation in population growth and regularly receives recognition for its strong economy." Strong economy? I hope they aren't expecting their souls to be saved any time soon.

  2. They are shocked? Really? They are wasteful, overpaid, blatant liars and they honestly believed they would get public support? Wake up CCSD you have alienated the public and your employees who are voters. What did you think was going to happen? Deanna Wright is out of touch with reality never should have been re-elected.

  3. This voter saw Question 2 as a way for the school district to circumvent the legislature. The proposition didn't have enough oversight, and had the potential to end up in someone's paycheck instead of in repairs and maintenance.

    The school administration is bloated and the administrators make far too much money. Fix that and you'll have enough money to fix the schools.

  4. Look at the buildings where the district's big wigs work. That pretty much says it all about what the bosses think of themselves vs children, teachers, and parents.

  5. Try spending your on money to fix your mistakes, you should know when repairs are needed in a school. They should have done right the first time.

  6. The voters would be happy to pay to fix the schools - AFTER the school district gets rid of the bloated, excess administration........and here's an idea, how about you get some business and finance people in the school administration instead of all just folks with doctorates in education.

  7. It is an absolute SHAME that we tax so much that families cannot afford housing / shelter as good as the "run down" school buildings. We have taxed our economy into a death spiral and so many uninformed people are trying to raise taxes. There is soooo much waste at CCSD--they spend $1,000 PER STUDENT PER YEAR more than Arizona. Yet, Arizona gets many more graduates, has similar climate, similar ELL issues, similar COL. So what gives, why are we spending $100,000,000 A YEAR MORE (based on 100,000 students) and GETTING LESS?

  8. The "leaders" are obviously not paying attention to the people who vote on these funding proposals. Get your house in order before coming to the voters for even more money to waste.

  9. "As we've seen with District spending of the 1998 bond moneys, once taxpayers have been successfully lured in with cries of "It's for the children," wasteful spending abounds. For example, CCSD gave $5 million from the last bond to the Smith Center and $2 million to the city of Henderson for a swimming pool. In August, trustees even approved spending $6.6 million to build a new gym at a high school that already has one, in a move that appeared motivated more by a desire to get Trustee Chris Garvey reelected than a desire to steward taxpayer dollars wisely"
    And you want my tax dollars?

  10. CCSD cannot reform itself.
    - It'll tinker around the edges, throw out a few buzz words, blame society/parents/taxpayers, shed crocodile tears for the children, and then merrily go on it's way creating ever more bureacracy & expenses while providing ever less "bang for the buck". The comparitively low achievement scores and high drop out rates, especially among non-white lower income students, is a disgrace and not getting appreciably better.
    - Only real competition will change that. Nevada needs to go to a scholarship(voucher) system that would force CCSD to compete against private & charter schools for students based on their curriculum & success. Set a state curriculum covering the basics (HSTEML), annual testing to see how students & schools are progressing (with results posted on a state website), and let the schools and parents determine teacher qualifications (other than a background check), pay, and school conditions (other than a comprehensive safety check & program). There's absolulety no reason why the majority of 18 years olds couldn't finish HS with a technical cert or AA degree -- other than the inept bureacracy standing in their way. Tie up state & federal funding into a $800 per month student scholarship till age 19 (home schoolers eligible for half but test more often than annually), good for up to 12 months per year (minimum of 20 days of school per month, required 8 hours per day through 10th grade). Do that, then legalize mj and tax the heck out of it (and A&T, maybe even prostitituion) to pay for the schools -- use our vices pay for something good.

  11. Until the school board becomes more fiscally responsible, I will not vote to increase the already highest portion of my property taxes.

  12. CCSD wanted the TAXPAYERS to Pay 720 Million Dollars so they can fix Schools over 6 years,, The Voters said No...Make the Over Paid Principals and Vice-Principals Take a 50 Percent PAY CUT.. Then CCSD will have Millons of Dollars to fix the Schools,, The TAXPAYERS are STILL Paying on the CCSD 1998 School Bond,, That Bond was for 4.9 BILLION DOLLARS,,Why after 14 YEARS Later The TAXPAYERS are Still PAYING On This BOND ??? THE WELL IS DRY !

  13. Schools are in need of repair throughout the country and the solving of the problem is to buy the material that will repair the problems that need to be fixed such as ceiling tile that doesn't have fiberglas embedded in the tile for eons.

  14. You can't donate 5 million dollars to the Smith Center when your schools are falling apart!!!!

    It begins and ends right there for me. The Smith Center is nice and everything but if the ceiling tiles in your school are falling apart, the locks are broken, the air conditioning isn't working YOU CAN'T GO AND DONATE 5 MILLION TO THE SMITH CENTER. It's not brain surgery folks. Priorities!!

  15. The district should cut some of the dead weight from the maintenance staff and outsource some of the repairs and maintenance of schools. I have heard stories of incredible wasted time and materials for repairs and service required by the district staff. Privatize.

  16. Good article but BAD NEWS. CCSD thinks they just need more of a sales pitch and the voters will approve funding for anything and everything they dream up. No indication that CCSD will do ANYTHING in a cost-effective manner.

  17. In the past the School Admins have done everything to bloat. We have two elementry schools in my area that are on the same lot. Why? They did it so they would need 2 of everyone in their staff. That fiscal responsibility? So they were taking money from the maintenance budget to fund things other than to make sure our kids have a good classroom.

    This is what they do, they manufacture crises. They purposefully short something or let it go down because they've always been bailed out by the taxpayer. They have no incentive to be fiscally responsible. Our elected officials never hold their feet to the fire. Where is the incentive to be responsible? Convert more schools to charters and give parents school choice and maybe they might do something responsible to save their phoney baloney jobs.

    CCSD and the Teachers Union have done nothing to substantiate their costs. There has never been nor will there ever be a time that either one of those entities will have enough money. Things like the $5 million to the Smith Center, debt management or budget for KLVX don't get included when they calculate how much is spent per pupil. So this "Nevada is so low on per pupil spending" is fiction. Half the budget doesn't even make it into the classroom.

  18. Private sector employees have taken 10% across-the-board pay cuts based on average household income falling from $55K per year to about $50K. So let's have similar pay cuts across-the-board for government workers. The school district would have multi-millions of free cash flow to retire some of those bond issues.

  19. Good riddens to bad rubbish. Let Dwight and ex Pedro for it. Pedro can give back his 28,000 moving expenses for taking the job (that he left) and they can fix Bell's roof. Put King Dwight and his roady fluffers in a trailer and get rid of West Sahara location can fix all the schools and pay some $$ to the slave teachers.

  20. "best you can do" will be when you publish the lists of bloated, over paid administrative and other non-essential positions you have done away with.

    Until then the taxpayers have had it with all of you and refuse to lap up the tripe you have been serving for decades.

    And a note to clark county commissioners...better start now getting firefighter salaries and benefits under control because you will NOT be getting any property tax renewals or increases when that comes up for a vote.


  21. "I was floored," School Board Vice President Deanna Wright said. "I didn't know it would pass, but I thought it would have a little more support."

    Shows how out of touch so many of them are sitting in their government built ivory towers.

  22. As a CCSD parent, I was offended by the 1) mailer I received from CCSD and 2) call through the ParentLink system, both advocating for passage. Every person I spoke to (parents and teachers alike) did not support the measure because CCSD does not know how to manage the money they already have.

    One basic lesson we all try to teach our kids is this: If you take appropriate responsibility, you will be appropriately rewarded. Maybe CCSD needs to learn that, too.

  23. Wowzer!

    When reading the comment section of the Sun, especially on any issue pertaining to education, one must suspend credulity entirely...

    People have the STRANGEST NOTIONS of how things work, or do not work, or SHOULD work.

    Opinions based on what, exactly?
    The ignorance is truly breathtaking...

    'Well, I read where the test scores are low and lots of illegals go there; I ain't payin' for it!'

    'Worst school system in the country! Why pay more until they do their jobs better!?!'

    'Unions and teachers are greedy; I won't support that!'

    'I won't spend another NICKEL on CCSD! Our kids can just sit there in them dilapidated, non-air conditioned, leaky-roofed, paint-peeling, poorly circulated, ratty-floored, cracking, creaking, cockroach-infested DUMPS and perform just as poorly as they would in a CASTLE!'

    Alrighty, then! I guess we'll just wallow in the 'worst school system in the country' in perpetuity...

    As to the failed referendum... what we have here today is yet another in a long line of poorly articulated positions
    by a 'less-than-stellar' School Board & school district administration, to a public hell-bent on keeping our poorly performing educational institutions...performing poorly.

    The ridiculously misguided notion that Nevada/Clark County taxpayers are overburdened by educational expenses is beyond silly.
    The propaganda machines like NPRI have an easy job coercing such an intellectually lazy citizenry into voting NO.

    Nevadans, as a whole, are not serious about education. It's just not important enough in the 'Grand Scheme' of gambling-tourism.
    Heck, even the measly couple-of-bucks-per-year Henderson Library referendum failed, leading to the closure of at least a couple of local libraries.
    People will not step up & properly FUND education, regardless of whether there is a 'bloated Administration' issue or not (which I agree there is).

    You understand that if you have a car that breaks down all the time and is old & expensive to maintain & repair, that you could be driving a brand new ride for about the same budget number, right? That's exactly what we have here; patches on patches on patches...EXPENSIVE patches...because we are too ignorant to understand that 'throwing good money after bad' in maintaining old infrastructure is counter-productive.

  24. When will the school district realize its not the building. Its what goes on in the building that matters. I went to school in a building that was almost 100 years old and received an awesome education. Everyone in vegas thinks just because you build a new structure thats going to fix the problems. Ridiculous.

  25. vc...

    THANK YOU for adding that one!
    I was going to....but my post was WAY too long already.

    'I went to a one-room schoolhouse on the PRAIRIE; walked 5 miles uphill both ways in 5-foot snowdrifts; my Schoolmarm was AWESOME...and I got me a GREAT 8th-grade education!'

    Hey; you DO realize this is the year 2012, right???

  26. stopthebs 12:50: Even with no new taxes and non renewals, the Commissioners get endless revenue from the CCRT portion of the Sales Tax. They've "dealt with it" by eliminating a few positions. But the overall excessive compensation for all employees is still there. You say you want a revolution, Commish, huh? Get SOMETHING DONE pronto. So unless we cut the CCRT portion (and LSST portion) of the SUT, and reallocate more to General Fund to cover obamacare and State requirements under federal programs, they're gonna raise taxes at the state level--and that will mean the Cities, Counties, and School Districts will get "their share" of all the additional revenue.

  27. vc, ignore gmag, the rest of us do. vc, you're so right--it's not the building. It's those chubby middle-aged school "teachers" who insist on overheating and over-cooling the buildings. Most kids don't notice the cold or heat--they put on a sweater when their mother tells them it's cold. Rural Nevada school buildings must average over 50 years--I've seen some built more than 89 years ago. And those buildings are still adequate. Others have pointed out that CCSD has built two buildings on the same lot--so they can double the administrators and dysfunction. Absolutely no concern for the kids, commutes, or parents.

  28. gmag39, sounds like a teachers union/CCSD talking points. The answer is always more money. Also who is being intellectually lazy here? NPRI at least puts out the real budget not the one CCSD doctors leaving out all kinds of spending to make it look like they are in desperate need.

    They spent the money put aside for extraordinary maintenance and used it for other things. So it really comes down to poor administration.

  29. @ 'Roslenda'...

    "vc, ignore gmag, the rest of us do. vc, you're so right--it's not the building. It's those chubby middle-aged school "teachers" who insist on overheating and over-cooling the buildings."
    Roberta Anderson.

    This is what passes (like so much gas) for discussion of our problems in education in general and CCSD in particular in the Great State of Nevada.

    Thanks for proving my point.

  30. Even in these difficult economic times many communities voted to support schools [as well as parks, libraries and other community amenities]. What did those communities have in common?....mostly they had confidence in the public institutions which operate those amenities. I don't disagree with the notion that Las Vegas/Clark County is over-represented marketplace of ignorance, but it is also over-represented in the marketplace of clueless public institutions and officials. If Ms. Wright truly thought that this measure had a chance of passage and that CCSD had made its best case then she is clearly out of her league. CCSD can't hide the fact that it is a sub-par organization with an ineffective Board and unimpressive management which has managed to insult the community in uncountable ways including disrespecting parent/voters by attacking their first and, often only, contact with schools...teachers.

    While I know that it will not happen, I must agree with many of the correspondents above.....close it down and start over. The draconian option of state or federal takeover should be considered. The problem is that neither of them want the responsibility and, since kids don't vote, who cares. If an old folks home was this bad it would be on the front page of the Sun and RJ and on every newscast until it was fixed cause old people vote.