Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2019

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State commission studies school funding plans

CARSON CITY -- A state commission is considering ways to raise money to pay for up to $1 billion in improvements and maintenance needed at Nevada public schools.

The state Planning Commission for New Construction and Repair of Schools on Monday looked at higher taxes, loans and other financing ventures.

Consultant Martin Johnson told the panel Monday that local school boards need more flexibility in fund-raising. The state, he said, should permit districts to go to the voters for tax increases. Clark County is the only one allowed to raise taxes specifically for schools.

The cap on property taxes of $3.64 per $100 of assessed valuation. Maybe school boards should have the authority to put an issue on the ballot to exceed that amount with voter approval, he said.

Or a revolving loan fund could be established to help hard-pressed school districts with their maintenance and repair problems, he added.

The commission, headed by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, will meet again Dec. 4 to make its recommendations to present to the 2001 Legislature.

The 1999 Legislature set aside $16 million to help Lincoln and White Pine counties with construction and repair projects.

Giunchigliani said one suggestion is putting aside money in the biennial allotment for state school aid to take care of major repairs. Currently state money covers only routine maintenance. That repair fund, she said, money would be protected from negotiations for salaries and other demands.

The last study done by the state put the needs of schools at near $1 billion, including projects needed in Clark County.

"We know we are not going to get to that," Giunchigliani said, "but what we're trying to do is come up with interest-free loans or utilizing bond capacity. Some start-up dollars will have to come from the state."

Other suggestions include broadening impact fees so all counties can take advantage of them. "We're looking at giving (the districts) as much flexibility as we can," she said.

Johnson said some districts have asked their county commissions for permission to place advisory questions on the ballots asking voters if they would support a sales tax or a residential construction tax.

"Most districts have had their request denied or the discussion was tabled," he said.

He also raised the possibility of combining school districts' functions. But he cautioned that residents of a big district like Clark County may not want to take on the additional responsibility of helping a rural district. Clark County voters have already approved major bond issues just to keep up with growth in Southern Nevada schools.

"Given the level of growth experienced in the state over the last decade, it is very likely that the 'acquiring' district has a shortfall of capital facilities funding and would have to redirect funds allocated to current projects to those of the 'acquired' area," he said.