Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2014

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School District says program for at-risk students not cost-effective

Pat Skorkowsky

Pat Skorkowsky

The Clark County School Board on Thursday cut a program that helps at-risk students graduate, drawing criticism from program supporters.

The School District has been evaluating third-party contracts and programs on their “return on investment,” and if a program doesn’t deliver enough bang for the buck, it’s cut.

The latest program on the chopping block was Ombudsman Educational Services, a for-profit alternative education program that works with some of the most at-risk students in Las Vegas.

Ombudsman has operated five centers in Las Vegas since 2011. The majority of the 580 Ombudsman students are black and Hispanic. Some are pregnant, homeless or have faced legal troubles.

Though a combination of computer-based and small group instruction, Ombudsman allows high school dropouts to quickly earn missing credits so they can graduate. The program costs between $1.5 million and $3 million a year, but boasts a 77 percent graduation rate among seniors, which is higher than the district average, according to the company.

District officials argued, however, that the program hasn’t delivered enough return on investment. They also said the district can now offer Ombudsman students new credit-retrieval classes at the Nevada Learning Academy, which would incorporate a similar model to Ombudsman.

“As we move forward, these (Ombudsman) students will be back in different types of schools,” Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said. “We’re working hard to save each child.”

Ombudsman officials, students and parents lobbied School Board members Thursday night to save the program. Without Ombudsman, students would have been dropouts, in jail or dead they said.

“We know budgets are tight, but these kids deserve this opportunity,” one Ombudsman teacher said.

Ultimately, School Board members thanked the company for its work but remained steadfast in supporting Skorkowsky’s decision to cut Ombudsman.

“It’s a difficult thing to cut something,” School Board member Patrice Tew said. “It’s not with insincerity that we say thank you. We understand your disappointment, but we hope you wish us well.”

Rudy Flores, Ombudsman’s senior vice president, said he was disappointed for the students and concerned about the district’s ability to raise its dropout rate without Ombudsman’s help.

“(The district) is not prepared to deal with these kids,” Flores said. “They’re not going to have enough options.”

Ombudsman has about 40 employees in Las Vegas, including five certified teachers at every center who teach math, reading and science. The School District has spent about $6.6 million on the program since 2011, at a cost of about $3,075 per pupil.

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