Published Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 | 1:29 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 | 5:49 p.m.
Nearly 3,000 Clark County School District students could be rezoned in an effort to alleviate severe crowding in southwest valley schools.
For more than two hours Wednesday morning, the Clark County School Board deliberated several proposals to help its jampacked schools, including redrawing the district's attendance zone map, creating portable campuses and reverting to double sessions or a year-round schedule.
In the end however, the School Board seemed likely to fall back on familiar tactics: rezoning students from crowded campuses and adding more portable classrooms. The board is expected to make its final decision in late February.
Rezoning and adding portables “is the minimal-impact decision," said School Board President Carolyn Edwards, who represents the southwest valley.
Although regional rezoning will affect the fewest number of students among the proposed options, it's still among the largest rezoning efforts in the past several years, Edwards said.
The Attendance Zone Advisory Committee, an appointed council that annually studies school boundaries for the School Board, has drafted three rezoning proposals for the southwest valley. More details and maps will be made available online in the coming weeks, and the district will conduct two public input meetings in the next two months.
• Option 1 would rezone 2,729 students, affecting these schools: Batterman, Bendorf, Diskin, Forbuss, Frias, Gray, Hayes, Kim, Reedom, Ries, Rogers, Steele, Stuckey, Tanaka and Wright. This would likely push nine schools over 1,000 students.
• Option 2 would rezone 2,599 students, affecting these schools: Batterman, Bendorf, Diskin, Forbuss, Frias, Gray, Hayes, Hill/Wiener Jr., Kim, Reedom, Ries, Rogers, Steele, Stuckey, Tanaka and Wright. This would likely push seven schools over 1,000 students.
- Option 3 would rezone 2,498 students, affecting these schools: Batterman, Beatty, Bendorf, Ryan, Cartwright/Gehring, Forbuss, Frias, Hayes, Hill/Wiener Jr., Hummel, Kim, Reedom, Ries, Rogers, Steele, Stuckey, Tanaka and Wright. This would likely push 11 schools over 1,000 students.
Each of the options would ensure that three elementary schools with about 1,200 students this year – Forbuss, Reedom and Wright – would maintain similar student levels next year when the district anticipates an influx of about 1,000 new students into the region.
Although no schools will have more than 1,200 students next year, rezoning will push several schools over the 1,000-student enrollment threshold. This means that while a few of the severely crowded schools would get some relief, several surrounding schools would have to accommodate larger enrollments.
And there is no guarantee that major rezoning won't occur in the coming years, as developers again begin building more homes in the Mountain's Edge and Rhodes Ranch neighborhoods.
"As new developments come online, we're still going to have continuing overcrowding issues," said Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones. "What we're discussing today is a short-term fix."
Although School Board members were leaning toward regional rezoning and adding more portables, other options to curb school crowding are still on the table.
Those solutions include relocating selected programs, such as Title I and full-day kindergarten, and using a year-round calendar.
The School Board has also tasked the district to study looking at leasing empty office buildings for new schools, as well as creating a magnet school for gifted students at an existing southwest valley elementary school to pull students away from congested campuses.
The School Board also eliminated several proposed options to address crowding next school year: portable schools, double sessions, fifth-grade centers and districtwide rezoning.
However, some of these proposals remain viable options for subsequent school years. That's why School Board members requested the district compile more information on the portable school idea, which has been adopted in several California districts.
Portable schools are estimated to cost about $8 million to construct, about a third of the cost of building a brick-and-mortar school in Clark County, Jones said. They could also help lay the foundation for a new permanent school, staking out land, building a school community and installing electrical and plumbing connections.
Although the "pop-up school" idea received some support in December, School Board and other community members raised several concerns about portable schools on Wednesday.
Edwards, who had expressed concerns in December, said portable schools would set a new precedent for how the nation's fifth-largest school district handles school crowding.
"There is no guarantee that a portable school will be anything but a portable school," she said, pointing out several schools stuck with "permanent" portables. "That portable school could be there for 30 years. I'm very cautious about a portable school because I think it's going to be there for a long, long time."
School Board member Erin Cranor argued that portable schools would divert capital funds away from needy schools and pour them into a temporary structure. Instead, the district should keep investing in existing schools, taking care of maintenance issues brought about because of crowding in the first place, she said.
"It's like buying a car; it's going to depreciate," Cranor said. "It's unwise to invest in something that's not going to become an asset."
School Board member Deanna Wright contended that portable classrooms provided an inferior education for students. She also was concerned about traffic congestion and students' safety from adding more portables at existing campuses.
"There's a difference in the educational setting being in a portable than in the building," she said. "It compromises the educational quality for these kids."
Before discussing crowding solutions Wednesday, the School Board hastily sought public input earlier this week, issuing paper and online surveys that garnered 1,860 total responses.
About 250 southwest valley parents attended a town hall-style meeting Monday night. From that event, the School District received 147 paper survey responses, which found that respondents favored keeping the current attendance zones and nine-month calendar, but adding more portable classrooms.
The town-hall survey respondents also favored constructing portable schools and creating fifth-grade centers.
The School District also offered an online survey for anyone on the Internet – theoretically Las Vegas parents – to submit their input. The online survey garnered 1,713 responses, which also favored keeping the status quo but adding more portable classrooms.
However, online survey respondents also highly favored rezoning the entire district and a year-round calendar. Those two options were ranked toward the bottom on the town-hall survey.
Some parents were concerned the district was moving too quickly on these proposals, which could impact students and families for the next four to five years. If parents couldn't attend the district's meeting Monday night, they were only given less than a day to respond to an online survey.
The School Board wanted to move swiftly on finding a solution, officials said, because schools and families will need time to prepare for possible major changes.
"I think we had enough input," Edwards said. "We knew this would be a tough decision, and I know some people will be unhappy. But I think we got enough input to make a good decision."
District officials had hoped for the passage of the district’s tax initiative in November, which would have funded two new elementary schools in the southwest valley. However, voters overwhelmingly rejected ballot question 2, forcing district officials to look at creative ways to address school crowding.
Although school enrollment has stabilized in the wake of the recession, pockets of population growth exist, especially in the Mountain's Edge and Rhodes Ranch communities. Currently, five southwest valley elementary schools — designed for about 800 students — have enrollments over 1,000 students.