Las Vegas Sun

April 27, 2015

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Cost to ease crowded Clark County classrooms put at $1.2 billion



With barely enough room to pass between desks, students in Mr. Gularte’s fourth-grade class begin their morning learning in a classroom of 35 students exceeding the average of 30 students at William V. Wright Elementary School, Friday, March 22, 2013.

Reducing class sizes in Southern Nevada to the national average would take $1.2 billion over four years, according to figures released by the Clark County School District.

But it will take more than the will of the School District or its teachers union to bring class sizes down. The Nevada Legislature will have to agree — and find a way to fund the effort.

Currently, class sizes in Clark County are among the largest in the nation, according to the district. In the wake of the recession, the School District raised its student-to-teacher ratios to balance its budget.

Although a 1989 plan to reduce class sizes has kept the average in first through third grades between 19 and 22 students, numbers in the other grades have ballooned with the growing population in Southern Nevada.

The average class in kindergarten has 26 students. By fourth and fifth grades, that number has risen to 34.

In middle and high school, the average class has 38 students. Some teachers in Las Vegas have reported classes in the 40s.

As the Legislature debates different tax proposals to fund class-size reduction, the School District and the local teachers union announced a four-year proposal to lower class sizes.

Crowded Classrooms

With barely enough room to pass between desks, students in Mr. Gularte's fourth-grade class begin their morning learning in a classroom of 35 students exceeding the average of 30 students at William V. Wright Elementary School, Friday, March 22, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Here's how it breaks down:

Year 1: The School District would hire 835 teachers at a cost of $55.1 million. This would lower average class sizes by up to three students.

Year 2: The district would hire 1,100 teachers at a cost of $72.6 million. This would lower average class sizes by an additional two students.

Year 3: The district would hire 1,106 teachers at a cost of $73.2 million. This would lower average class sizes by an additional two students.

Year 4: The district would hire another 1,074 teachers at a cost of $70.8 million. This would lower average class sizes by an additional two students.

In total, the district and union's plan calls for hiring 4,115 new teachers, for a total of $271.7 million. The average teacher's salary with benefits is $66,000.

The additional teachers would be on top of an estimated 2,000 new educators being hired for next school year as a result of the School District's arbitration win against the Clark County Education Association in February. If all goes according to plan, the School District could have upward of 23,000 teachers by 2017.

That would lower average class sizes significantly in kindergarten, and fourth and fifth grades. Average class sizes in kindergarten would drop to 16 students. Fourth and fifth grades would see a drop to 26 students.

To accommodate the 6,000 new teachers and a growing student enrollment, the district also would have to build 37 new schools at a cost of $931.7 million. The average elementary school costs $25 million to construct.

In total, the new teachers and schools would cost the district $1.2 billion.

If this reduction plan seems like a pie-in-the-sky idea, it kind of is. It's contingent on a best-case funding scenario (really more of a miracle windfall) from Carson City, according to School District spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson.

"It's more of a blueprint about how we would ideally bring class sizes down to national averages," Fulkerson said.

Critics of class-size reduction, such as Nevada Policy Research Institute, say the quality of a teacher trumps large class sizes. Research is mixed on the issue, but teachers overwhelmingly argue that smaller class sizes allow for individualized attention, which can translate to higher student achievement.

Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed budget calls for additional money to expand full-day kindergarten and fund literacy programs for English-language learners. Reducing the class size doesn't seem to be his priority.

However, the education-minded Legislature may make reductions a priority for Nevada. Lawmakers are kicking around several tax proposals to fund K-12 education. If these new taxes come to pass, the additional revenue may go toward funding a reduction in class sizes.

For the better part of a year, the state teachers union has been pushing for a 2 percent margins tax on businesses earning more than a million dollars annually. Lawmakers didn't pass the petition initiative during this session, which means voters will have their say in 2014.

Democrats and Republicans are pushing competing tax plans. Democrats have yet to unveil their proposal, though an announcement is expected soon. Republicans are calling for a new tax on the mining industry.

Lawmakers also are debating ways to fund new school construction.

In November, Clark County voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative to raise the property tax to build four new schools and renovate 40 existing ones.

However, earlier in April, the School District unveiled a bill that would allow it to partner with a nonprofit corporation to build new schools. That nonprofit, acting as an agent of the district, would take a bond to market to secure financing.

With about a month left in the 2013 legislative session, the district and union are hopeful about seeing some new state money for education, and possible class-size reduction.

"We're optimistic about the conversation in Carson City," Fulkerson said. "Class sizes and education has been the driving force behind this legislative session."

"(This plan) is very feasible," said Ruben Murillo, outgoing Clark County teachers union president. "The best school reform would be the reduction of class sizes."

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  1. The average teacher's salary is $66K with benefits--I'm curious how pension costs are figured into the $66K, or if they are figured in at all. If they are not figured in and pension checks simply come out of NVPers, then CCSD's fortunes will rise and fall with the stock market--a very uncertain future indeed.

  2. I'm calling a little bit of BS here. I think this is the course that we are slated for and need some of the proposed staff increases. I do not think that we utilize our resources to the fullest. Ex. a "year round" school does not use the classroom(s) when the teacher is not scheduled for that rotation (use all the classrooms all the time). We need more than an estimated projection, make a real plan and present it.

  3. This is a multi-fauceted problem. When we discuss class size, we need to keep the age of the student (maturity and foundational achievement), student literacy with the English language, location of the school, and how student discipline is meeted out at the school site.

    When teachers have a class composed of a high level of ELL, high level of Special Ed, and a high level of children predisposed with behavioral issues, we have to keep the classroom numbers lower so that such classes are best served and can be reached and engaged in active learning. Typically, the more "at-risk" a class or school is, there is less parent involvement.

    We could increase parent involvement (a revenue neutral strategy) to support student learning.

    Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to all our Teachers out there! Chances are, if you can read, write, count, and say the pledge of allegiance, you can thank a teacher for it.

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. The easy way to solve this problem is to send the illegals and their rug-rats packing. That does not sit well with teachers unions as it would also cut down on the flow of money it garners from members dues.

  5. 35 students in a class is NOT the 45 teachers claim. The school buildings were designed to perpetuate the K-12 hype that classes of 10-12 are their ideal. Not gonna happen. We cannot afford K-12 for 15-20 million illegals plus kids. Classes HAVE TO get bigger. We cannot afford to do for our kids when we provide cradle-to-grave 24/7 lifestyle for illegals and those who refuse to work. There has been no corresponding increase in production from illegals or since the economy tanked--so there is NO INCREASE in wealth to tax. Sure we "could" increase taxes on the working class but that's not what parents believe when they say they want K-12 funding--they THINK the rich are gonna foot the bill, the rich or "business." But reality is starting to sink in--businesses do not pay taxes--their customers do--and that's us. And, there are very few rich to carry the freight. As we've seen, when taxes go up, the affluent MOVE RESIDENCE to a lower-tax state or country. So what ya gonna do? Get COST-EFFECTIVE K-12 where we get graduates who can read and write. The cost for the basics can be much less than we're already paying.

  6. Now we see the teachers and friends rush in to pontificate about what "we need." With all their advanced degrees they still are not capable of teaching the three r's. We've had immigrants with foreign languages forever. ELL is NOT an issue. Parental involvement or lack thereof is nothing new. Poverty is nothing new. Hungry students--not so much as it used to be.

  7. CCSD class sizes are NOT unusually large. Super Guthrie reported (on Jon Ralston) that CCSD does NOT report large classes. It would appear that teachers are hyping this and inflating numbers to lobby for more money, more money, more money. Further, Super Guthrie again reported that endless studies confirm that class size does not matter, de minimus. What matters is TIME IN CLASS with a good teacher performing relevant educational activity.

  8. How many new administrators does the school district plan to hire. Most of them do nothing for the educational experience of the children. What these administratiors do is questionable. Lots of deadwood.Can we afford all these expenditures. We can if we start taxing the mining companies like Australia or Alaska do.

  9. jaquekeno: Many hombres are Catholic. I grew up Catholic. It is pounded into your head that it is your duty to have many, many kids. And since we give out more benefits to larger families, this all works nicely for everyone except gainfully employed Americans.

  10. There was no mention in the article about mandatory parent involvement. Did I miss something?

  11. cannot cite any validated, peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that class size is not material to learning because there are NONE! NONE, NADA, NYET, NONE! Only one long term, peer reviewed, validated study [Harvard] has been completed and it suggest that lower class size has a positive effect on all learners.

  12. Wharf RAT: CSR is still de minimus to irrelevant. I don't cite the things one can find with minimal research. But, did you miss my QUOTING STATE-Super GUTHRIE who cited the studies, studies, studies? Dept of ED has disseminated that FACT FOR A LONG TIME--since at least 1999 when they told me.

  13. truthserum 10:04. Your cite of Plyer vs. Doe may be like the mis-believed idea that SCOTUS once outlawed capital punishment. SCOTUS never did and actually (eventually) mentioned to the world that that was not what they said when they struck down one specific example. So you really may be onto something, we NEED someone (CCSD?) to take the issue back to SCOTUS and base it on something relevant. Perhaps we can sue Obama for the costs of illegal K-12 and anchor-baby K-12 for his FAILURE TO ENFORCE OUR LAWS. As for deportation, it would be mucho cheaper to simply EXPEL illegals who cannot show they ENTERED legally. Saving deportation expense for those who HAD Visas. Mexico EXPELLED Scott Peterson when he was wanted for murder. No lengthy delays. Minimal expense to escort him to the border.

    p.s. Chuck: It wasn't the family who suggested many kids--it was the Priests during sermons and Catechism. Not sure if they intensify it on the girls but could be--you know that stuff about obey your husband....

  14. @Roslenda....Studies, studies, studies....Guthrie has not cited them either because they DO NOT EXIST...same reason why you cannot cite them, you make them up out of rumor, innuendo and anecdote. Frankly it has gotten to the point that nothing you say about education or immigration has any basis in reality.