Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

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School District won’t seek money now to ease classroom crowding

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Children line the hallway after eating lunch at Mendoza Elementary School on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012.

The Clark County School Board unanimously voted today not to pursue a ballot initiative for school renovations and construction this year.

Board members decided to hold off on seeking a new bond or tax initiative, primarily because it would face stiff competition from another ballot measure to raise money for education.

The Education Initiative, which is proposed and backed by the teachers union, seeks to impose a 2 percent margins tax on Nevada businesses with more than $1 million in annual revenue.

With a contentious tax initiative for education already on the 2014 ballot, the School Board is likely to wait until the 2016 election to put its own ballot measure before voters.

The School District plans to give monthly updates to the board about how it plans to develop its next capital campaign proposal, likely an extension of the 1998 bond program. If voters approve more money for school buildings in 2016, the first new elementary school will likely be completed in 2021.

The district’s last ballot initiative — called Question 2 — failed to gain voter approval in 2012 by a margin of 2 to 1. Had it passed, the property tax increase would have raised $720 million over six years for school facilities.

District officials say new school buildings and modernizations are necessary to alleviate campus crowding and fix deteriorating buildings.

The School District estimates it has $5.3 billion in facility needs over the next decade. However, there is only $47.3 million left over from the district’s last bond program, which was approved by voters more than 15 years ago.

Without more funding for school rehabilitations, officials are worried some of the district’s oldest schools — with leaking roofs and failing heating and cooling systems — may be forced to shut down.

Clark County, the nation’s fifth-largest school district, also faces rising student enrollment.

In January alone, the School District enrolled 1,200 new elementary school students, pushing overall enrollment near a record-breaking 316,000 pupils. As a result, the district’s 217 elementary schools are on average 14 percent over capacity, officials said.

Last month, the School District approved a two-pronged approach to curb campus crowding.

Thirteen schools will be on a year-round calendar next year, decreasing the number of students on a campus by about 20 percent at any given time. The move will cost the district more than $4 million, or $308,000 per school.

In addition, the School Board approved new school attendance boundaries, which would rezone more than 1,000 students at 17 schools this fall. The move would transfer students from crowded campuses to those less crowded.

The School Board will likely discuss creative ways to tackle campus crowding as it waits for an opportune time to seek voter approval on a new capital program.

To mitigate crowded elementary schools, Clark County Schools Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said Wednesday that moving fifth-graders into middle schools might be necessary. In the past, the district has also considered building temporary schools out of portable classrooms, bathrooms and cafeterias.

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