Las Vegas Sun

December 1, 2015

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District targets two urban-core elementary schools for replacement


Sam Morris

A door in the library is inoperable because of shifting walls at Lincoln Elementary School Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 | 5:21 p.m.

Lincoln Elementary

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

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 »

Rex Bell and Lincoln elementary schools would be replaced with new campuses if voters in November approve a property tax initiative, the Clark County School District announced Tuesday morning.

The School District is seeking a six-year capital levy that would raise $669 million to fund high-need school maintenance and renovation projects. Passage would represent an additional $74 annual property tax increase per $100,000 of assessed home value.

In a news conference, Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones said the scope of the existing needs at these two aging schools make replacing them more cost-effective than repairs or renovation.

"It's difficult to make repairs because (they’re) so old," Jones said. "It would be cheaper to do a complete replacement."

School Board President Linda Young said replacement of the schools was a matter of fairness. Older schools in the urban core tend to be among the lowest-performing schools in the valley, according to a Las Vegas Sun analysis of school rating data.

"Equity in our school district is critical," Young said. "Where you live shouldn't determine the quality of your education."

The replacement schools are estimated to cost $20 million apiece, and may take a little more than a year to construct.

Construction of these replacement schools would require a cooperative agreement with the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, said Paul Gerner, associate superintendent of facilities.

The plan would be first to build the replacement school at a nearby city park. Then district contractors would tear down the old school, and either construct a new park or rehabilitate the old school into a community center, Gerner said.

Rex Bell Elementary School is at 2900 Wilmington Way near West Sahara Drive and Interstate 15, west of the Las Vegas Strip. It was built in 1963 and designed for 655 students. Today, its enrollment is 830 students. Twenty-two portable classrooms help ease the space crunch.

Lincoln Elementary School, 3010 Berg St., North Las Vegas, near East Cheyenne Avenue, was built in 1955 and designed for 722 students. Though its current enrollment, 667 students, is below that original capacity, Lincoln requires seven portable classrooms.

Both schools suffer from unreliable heating and air-conditioning systems, flooding and electrical issues, said Rex Bell Principal Jaymes Aimetti. The replacement schools would absolve these schools of facilities problems and alleviate crowded classrooms, he added.

"Children deserve a great facility," Aimetti said, noting with additional capital funds, "we can provide them with a high-quality education in high-quality surroundings."

In addition to the two replacement schools, the tax initiative also would allow the district to modernize another 39 of its 357 schools over the six-year period, the School District said. Those 41 schools serve a combined 43,000 students, about 14 percent of the district's 308,000 total enrollment.

The district has not yet prioritized which projects would be funded first should more capital funds become available. However, Jones was adamant the two school replacements were high-priority projects.

There are additional schools in the district in need of attention, Jones said. These 41 schools, however, represent the neediest based on crowding issues and condition of the facilities, he said.

"So many of our schools have significant facilities challenges," Jones said. "A Band-Aid approach won't work."

The School District hasn't replaced a school in the past couple of years, Gerner said. In the past decade and a half, the district replaced 14 schools, which represents about 4 percent of all the schools in the district, he said.

If schools were to be replaced when they reach a 50-year lifespan, the district should be replacing at least seven schools a year, Gerner said.

With the district scrimping on repairs and maintenance, major air-conditioning failures such as the one that occurred earlier this school year at Diskin Elementary School may become more frequent, Jones said.

Critics of the tax initiative – such as the Nevada Policy Research Institute – argue the School District is exaggerating its maintenance needs, pointing to the relatively young average age of Clark County Schools: 22 years.

The conservative think-tank has argued the tax hike would only be a burden on families struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the recession, and it has challenged the ballot initiative in court.

"A quality education doesn't come from a building. It comes from a system with effective teachers and where parents can choose the best options for their children," NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks said in a statement. "Because there is little to no correlation between spending on buildings and student achievement, it is disappointing to see district officials push a plan that will not improve student learning but will burden parents with new taxes."

However, with the political and fundraising support from four former First Ladies of Nevada, Jones said he was hopeful voters would understand the district's maintenance predicament.

"We know it's a difficult ask, but it's an important ask," Jones said.

The School District is pursuing the pay-as-you-go capital improvement plan so as not to accrue interest on bond debt. The property tax rate for schools will go back down once the six-year capital levy expires, officials said.

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