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November 22, 2014

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Think tank clashes with district over tax proposal to fix schools

Image

Paul Takahashi

Decker Elementary School teacher Kim Jeter reads to a 51-student fourth-grade class on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. The air-conditioning system at the nearby Diskin Elementary school, a 39-year-old school that was last renovated 13 years ago, failed on Tuesday, prompting school officials to temporarily close the school and transfer Diskin students to Decker on Wednesday.

School District proposes higher taxes to improve schools

KSNV reports on the district's campaign to temporarily raise property taxes to fix schools, Sept. 18.

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 »

For months, the Nevada Policy Research Institute has publicly questioned the Clark County School District's ballot initiative to raise property taxes for school renovations.

Representatives from the libertarian think tank raised concerns about the six-year capital levy at School Board meetings and in articles published on its website, but maintained it was neutral on the tax initiative.

Even when NPRI sued the School District this summer — threatening to derail the tax question from appearing on the ballot — the nonprofit organization maintained it wasn't a political move.

On Tuesday, NPRI seemed to have finally taken a public stance on the issue.

NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks published an article on its website that blasted the district's tax-increase campaign as a "bait and switch" effort that would "hurt families (and) seniors, without increasing student achievement."

"The CCSD machine is, once more, waving the bait," Joecks said. "Don't bite."

The School District swiftly released a three-page retort on Tuesday to media, disputing NPRI's claims.

"We want the public to have accurate information on the issue," said Joyce Haldeman, the district's associate superintendent of community and government relations.

The School District is seeking voter approval to raise taxes $74 a year on a home assessed at $100,000 until 2018. This proposal will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as Question 2.

The district hopes to generate up to $720 million over the six-year capital program to fund high-priority school renovations at nearly 40 schools, construct two new schools to alleviate overcrowding in the southwest valley and replace the aging Lincoln and Rex Bell elementary schools.

NPRI's article questioned the district's claim that raising property taxes to fix schools would help increase student achievement.

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 »

"Numerous studies … conclusively show that there is little to no correlation between spending and student achievement — especially spending on buildings," Joecks said.

Joecks pointed to the district's 1998 bond program, which raised $4.9 billion to build 120 new and replacement schools, but hasn't made significant improvements to student test scores and graduation rates.

However, district officials argued in town hall meetings and a district-funded mailer that the 1998 bond program was a "reliable, successful and fiscally responsible" capital improvement program.

When the recession hit, the district postponed school maintenance and new bond programs, Haldeman said. While the district was able to temporarily save money, its failure to make necessary maintenance and repairs is becoming a costlier and costlier proposition as time passes.

"We have to make sure our facilities are adequate for our kids to learn in," Haldeman said at a community meeting on Tuesday night. "Our students deserve reliable air conditioning and roofs that don't leak. It's time for our community to come together for our children."

NPRI questioned how some of the 1998 bond money was used, noting a few examples as "wasteful spending."

The School District gave $5 million to the Smith Center, which would provide educational opportunities for students. The district also gave $2 million to Henderson for a swimming pool, which would be used by school swim teams.

In August, the School Board approved in a rare split-vote decision to spend $6.6 million to build a new gym at Moapa Valley High School, which already has a gym.

"(It's) a move that appeared motivated more by a desire to get Trustee Chris Garvey (who represents Moapa Valley) re-elected than a desire to steward taxpayer dollars wisely," Joecks said.

Haldeman defended the School Board's decision to build auxiliary gyms at rural high schools like Moapa Valley and Laughlin, calling it an "equity issue that has risen to a top priority."

Although these high schools are smaller than their urban counterparts, they have just as many athletes who practice and compete in smaller gyms, Haldeman said. These rural high school gyms are packed beyond capacity when competitions take place and get double usage for community activities, such as dances, graduations and band concerts.

"Adequate gym space has become both a safety issue and an academic issue," Haldeman said.

NPRI also argued that the district's schools are "relatively new" compared with schools in other states.

On average, U.S. schools are 50 years old. The average age of Las Vegas schools is just 22 years old, Joecks said.

Haldeman retorted that 30 percent of the district's 357 schools were more than 30 years old. The district has 28 schools that are older than 50 years old.

"These schools need significant renovations," Haldeman said.

Despite the ongoing public dispute between NPRI and the School District, parents and community members attending the district's town hall meetings seem to support the tax proposal.

More than 50 people attended a Parent Advisory Committee meeting at Valley High School on Tuesday morning. The overwhelming sentiment from attendees on the capital program was positive, district officials said.

Fewer than 10 people showed up to a town hall meeting at Rancho High School on Tuesday night sponsored by Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D-Las Vegas) and County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly. However, here too, attendees seemed to support the ballot measure.

"Question 2 will change the face of our schools," Weekly said, concerned about "deplorable conditions" on Las Vegas campuses. "This (capital campaign) is long overdue."

Flores agreed: "If we don't have conditions that are optimal for learning and our children, we won't achieve our goal of having every child educated in our state."

Representatives from both the state and local teachers union attended the town hall meeting Tuesday night, but said they did not have an official stance on the tax proposal. Instead the teachers unions will focus on its own education initiative, a bill draft request that calls for a 2 percent margin tax on business revenue for corporations earning more than $1 million. It would raise about $800 million annually for Nevada's K-12 public schools.

District officials have warned they may need to dip into the district's operating budget to help pay for necessary school repairs if Question 2 does not pass. That means deteriorating schools may be closed and children rezoned, but also could portend more concessions from teachers in the future.

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  1. No one seriously thought NPRI was ever neutral on a tax increase, did they?

  2. Stop paying people like John Oceguera $452,000 a year and we would easily have more than 120 million dollars a year for our schools. Don't believe it? Go to transparentnevada.com and check it out for yourself.

  3. In North Las Vegas alone 920 people made over $100,000 each last year in salary and benefits. The highest was over $525,000.
    Then there are people like John Oceguera who make over $100,000 a year in retirement. If the people at the top in local governments weren't so greedy and selfish, there would be plenty of money for our schools.

  4. At least the 2 million dollar swimming pool will be used by kids for many years. In 2010 THREE people in North Las Vegas had a combined salary and benefits package of over 2.1 million dollars. In addition, they're probably going to be paid over $100,000 each in retirement. People complain about a swimming pool which will be used by school swim teams, but don't say anything about greedy and selfish people like John Oceguera who loot the treasuries of local governments. As a matter of fact, Oceguera may even get rewarded for his treachery by getting elected to Congress.

  5. That's over $100,000 a year each in retirement for the 3 men who made 2.1 million in 2010. People like those 3 men and John Oceguera don't care if girls have to walk home in the dark because there is no after school transportation for kids who want to play sports. They don't care if they shut down the band in a middle school or if there are 42 kids in a class room. All they care about is how much money they can get out of local governments.

  6. hey steve...
    i am a PROUD LIBERAL DEMOCRAT...
    and i agree with you regarding the outrageous salaries...
    i will not vote for oceguera for that reason alone...
    BUT...
    our school system sucks eggs...
    period...
    that can not be disputed...
    you must not blur the issues...
    we must address both issues separately...
    the schools...
    and...
    the outrageous public employee salaries...
    and any society worth its salt...
    put kids first!!!

  7. In the civilized states, business tax rates are higher. But when mining and gaming own politicians, we have kindergartners 30+ to a class and kids sitting in classrooms with non-functioning AC. That is how this state prioritizes.

  8. It's nice to see that Steve Brown works for the Joe Heck campaign (yes, they will stoop so low as to nit pick their opponent apart in the comment section of the local paper just to win).

    Joe Heck's other campaign cronies are trying to remove funding from the preschool John Oceguera's kids attend. (yes, seriously) I call that dirty and underhanded but it's pretty par for the course in a Joe Heck campaign. [They went on a 2 year long terrorist campaign against Joe Heck's last opponent and harassed her until she resign her job then threw a party to celebrate their own cruelty when she resigned.]

    NPRI is the PR firm for the top 1% of wealthy people in Nevada. Why any of the papers continue to slander think tanks by calling NPRI one is beyond me.

  9. CCSD has proved one thing: MONEY WON'T HELP. Nevada over-funds K-12 and we get the WORST RESULTS in the nation. Nevada funding is about average for states while the U.S. spends more per kid that everywhere else. We don't need all those school buildings. Rural Nevada, with 80 year old buildings, does better than CCSD. Further, as our population declines, enrollment declines. After November elections, more illegals will self deport and then we're gonna ENFORCE OUR LAWS and we'll have 20% fewer students. For this school year, with 1 or 2 kids more in each class room, we don't need and have NO USE FOR SO MANY CLASS ROOMS.

  10. Beyond NPRI suing the CCSD, they shouldn't even be in the news. NPRI is a very small group of right wing libertarians. You give them way too much coverage! Maybe you should have asked... teachers instead of NPRI?

  11. There are "numerous studies" demonstrating that class size is immaterial to learning, that teacher compensation is immaterial to learning, that facilities are immaterial to learning, that critical thinking is bad, that whatever some right-win fruitcake came up with is good and that teacher unions are bad. NPRI is anti-public education just like all the other Adelson/Koch/Norquist clone organizations. Left up to NPRI children with money, light skins and American names would go to private schools and the rest would inhabit lice-infested mud huts and read selected passages from the Bible by candlelight.

  12. I probably wouldn't object to a tax increase if I had more faith that CCSD would be better stewards of it AND if they could show some improvement in student achievement with the money they already were getting. The problem is that the more they get, the less they actually seem to accomplish. and I don't see it as an individual teacher problem so much as a systemic problem caused by excessive bureacracy; political gamesmanship to expand jobs, power, and or income; and lack of public involvement. CCSD needs to put forth a plan to REALLY change things, or NV needs to give parents a school choice option (with tax dollars following the student).

  13. Thread goes to wharfrat.

    But yeah, NPRI doesn't support a tax increase. I'm flabbergasted.

  14. Hey teacher, what are the names of the mining and gaming companies who own LV politicians? I googled the MGM income statement and they've been LOSING money for the last 4 years--so how can you accuse them of owing CCSD more corporate tax? Teachers can't accuse businesses of any wrongdoing when their own NVPers pension fund assumes a fictional Madoff 8% annual growth rate, as is stated on the NVPers website. If teachers switched to 401K pension plans like the rest of us have, there would be gobs of money available for schools.

    http://investing.money.msn.com/investmen...

  15. Yes, funding is more than adequate as is. Actually, average household income for the rest of the world has dropped about 10% from $55K to $50K. So let's make a 10% correction in compensation, this year. Another correction next biennium. And while we're addressing K-12 lets fund students ability to opt into serious education--private schools, home schooling.... It's like the hype with taxes: local governments sell the public that they need a 1/4% raise in sales tax to fund say a stadium when they already have adequate funding but are over-spending on all employees.