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November 18, 2017

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Lawmakers tour schools that could face deep budget cuts


Tiffany Brown

Advanced Placement calculus students crowd into a class at Clark High School in this January 2010 file photo. Lawmakers on Friday toured Clark High as they prepare for budget deliberations that could include deep cuts for public education.

Being ferried, appropriately, in a big yellow school bus, a group of Nevada assemblymen went on a politically timely field trip Friday, visiting the very campuses that may be hit hard in upcoming state budget deliberations.

They began their tour, shadowed by reporters and Clark County School District officials, at Clark High School, one of the oldest and largest schools in Southern Nevada. The tour ended, three schools later, at Halle Hewetson Elementary School.

Some of the lawmakers are new to the Legislature or new to education issues or both. They wanted to learn firsthand about the condition of schools and how cuts to close the state’s $1 billion-plus deficit might affect students.

Or, as lawmakers in Carson City term budget cuts, “lessening the inputs.”

Almost three-quarters of Nevada’s public school pupils live in Clark County.

The lawmakers got an ear and an eye full as they were quick-marched, among other classes, through a risk-management class, an advanced-placement government class, and an elementary school mathematics class where second-graders sang about “My Hero, the Zero.”

It was also an opportunity for School District officials to lobby a captive audience of legislators. Lauren Kohut-Rost, deputy superintendent of instruction, asked the assemblymen on the bus, “What is $189 million?”

When no one knew, she answered her own question: “That’s the dollar amount the Class of 2010 at the Clark County School District won in scholarships last year.”

One assemblyman, Ira Hansen of Sparks, asked about the transient rate, the proportion of students who enter the district but transfer before completing high school. Kohut-Rost answered, “Thirty-five percent, our lowest in a decade.”

“Wow,” exclaimed Hansen, a Republican and newly elected. “That is huge.”

Of 14 members of the Assembly Education Committee, which helps oversee 55 cents of every state dollar, seven members went on the tour, led by David Bobzien, the new chairman of the committee. The tour was his idea.

Bobzien, a Democrat from Reno, said, “What we’re hoping to learn is what the district is doing right now in relation to education reform and the prospect for those reforms to have a real impact.” He was not more specific.

Bobzien has specialized mainly in environmental issues, but he was also a member of the advisory board for the Washoe School District’s Career & Tech program. At 38, he is considered a rising star among Democrats, one reason why he was given the key education chairmanship.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, 56, chairwoman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which reviews the entire state budget, was also there. “I’m just always looking for different perspectives,” she said. A Democrat from Sparks, she is a former president of the Nevada PTA.

The morning began at Clark High, sure to feel the blade of any budget cuts that the committee approves when the Legislature meets next month.

Many of Clark’s students are Spanish-speaking and working-class. But there is a remarkable diversity: 54 languages are spoken there, including Farsi, the most widely spoken language of Iran.

Dwight Jones, the new school superintendent, made his pitch: “We know cuts are going to come, but we can’t cut our way out of this crisis.”

Bobzien asked class sizes at Clark. An administrator replied 35 students, down from as many as 43, in part because of federal stimulus money.

One of the legislators’ first stops was Vincent Farese’s finance and marketing class. The topic was risk management.

Most of his students were in dresses and coat and tie, which is standard.

Some are tax preparers. Clients say, according to Farese, “Oh, these kids are so young, am I going to go to jail?” Farese, 71, assures the clients that the students are duly certified preparers.

Then, squeaking down the polished floors and cavernous halls of Clark, the legislators peeked into Amy Evers’ advanced-placement government class.

One of Evers’ questions flummoxed the class: Who is the speaker of the House of Representatives?

Groans when they were told “John Boehner.” “Yeah,” said one girl, “the one with the weird name.”

But a boy with a Justin Bieber haircut correctly answered when Evers asked if she could ever teach Christianity.

Yes, the boy said, “You can teach the principles but you can’t tell us what to do.”

Evers nodded, “I can teach, but I can’t preach.”

By the end of the day, Bobzien, the education chairman, came away with a great deal. “We all learned that much of the schools’ successes, and there were a number of them, were extremely dependent on resources, like instructional aides.”

CORRECTION: This story was changed to correct that Clark County School District students won $189 million in scholarships last year, not Clark High School students. | (January 18, 2011)

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