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May 26, 2015

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School District to open financial books to public online

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Paul Takahashi

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones delivers his second annual “State of the District” address on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, at Western High School. Jones unveiled a new online “Open Book” portal, which makes the district’s financial information public, and touted the district’s academic gains last school year.

Updated Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 | 3:44 p.m.

State of the District Address

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones delivers his second annual Launch slideshow »

The Clark County School District on Monday unveiled a new website that makes it easier for the public to view the district’s financial records.

Each year the School District releases a 200-page "comprehensive annual financial report" and other budget documents to comply with the state's open government laws. However, these fiscal papers are often difficult for the average lay person to understand.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones used his second State of the District address to launch an "Open Book" website in an effort to make the district's financial records more transparent to the public.

The new online tool features a breakdown of the district’s spending and expenses by department, and it allows visitors to submit ideas for budget savings. The portal will help ensure the district is accountable for every dollar it spends, Jones said.

"This is the kind of transparency that our taxpayers expect and deserve," Jones said. "Taxpayers need to know that dollars are being spent on needs, not luxuries."

The "Open Books" portal sheds new light on the district's financial situation, which until now had been buried under hundreds of pages of documents.

The nation's fifth-largest school district spends $8,252 in annual per-pupil funding, which equates to about $45 per student per day. That means the School District spends less on each student than any of the four largest school districts in the country.

Most of the per-pupil money goes to teachers' salaries and benefits, which constitute about 90 percent of the district's $2 billion general fund budget. Teacher, support staff and administrator salaries and benefits constitute about $26 of the $45 per student per day expenditure.

Other major expenses include custodial and grounds maintenance, utilities and student transportation.

Some of the daily per-pupil expenditure figures may surprise the public, Jones said. Among the statistics cited on the portal:

• The School District spends 54 cents per student per day on technology, and $1 per student per day on school materials. School police get 36 cents per student per day.

• The School District spends 14 cents per day on each one of its English-language learner students. There are more than 54,000 limited English-proficient students in Clark County, constituting about 18 percent of the district's overall student population.

• Nevada also has fewer administrators per student than any other state in the nation. Clark County has the lowest administrator to student ratio in the state, with one administrator per 341 students.

"We're one of the lowest in the country in terms of investing in our young people," Jones said. "If we want all students to be proficient in reading by third grade, we've got to invest in education."

The "Open Books" initiative comes just two months after voters in November overwhelmingly rejected the district's tax initiative for school repairs. After the failure of Ballot Question 2, Jones said he was resolved to better communicate the district's needs and investments.

"I heard the message loud and clear," Jones said. "(The public wasn't) convinced we would spend the money wisely. … You can't earn the community's trust without an open book."

The new website also comes less than month before the Legislature reconvenes in Carson City. The School District is expected to lobby for more funding to pay for early childhood programs, English Language Learner students and to help alleviate school overcrowding.

Gov. Brian Sandoval is expected to restore about $40 million in funding to the School District, which represents about 2 percent of the district's annual general fund budget.

However, with automatic teacher raises and employee pension increases, that funding increase may have little effect on students and won't come close to restoring some $500 million in budget cuts to Clark County schools since the recession began five years ago.

"That 2 percent doesn't catch us up," Jones said. "We could be facing another difficult budget. We're going to do all that we can to keep cuts away from kids and restore some of the funds we've lost."

About 350 people, including legislators, School Board members and other community leaders, attended Jones' hour-long State of the District address at Western High School. Jones touched upon a variety of topics, including improving the teaching profession, boosting the district's technology offerings and a new, more-rigorous Common Core curriculum.

Jones also commended schools for making gains in graduation rates and test scores last school year. These improvements were a significant achievement, Jones said, especially considering the effects of the Great Recession on Las Vegas.

Jones likened the district's academic progress to a marathon.

"We've passed some early mile markers, but the finish line is still out over the horizon," Jones said. "There is still much work to be done."

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