Las Vegas Sun

May 23, 2019

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EDITORIAL:

CCSD approaching event horizon for school maintenance repairs

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Steve Marcus

Tadone Phengrasamee, left, and Stephen Molina, HVAC technicians for the Clark County School District, work on air conditioning units at Cashman Middle School Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. As the effects of the recession continue to affect school operations and deferred maintenance costs continue to rise, the CCSD is finding it difficult to maintain school facilities.

For homebuyers who like vintage houses, there’s nothing quite like coming across one that’s been lovingly maintained.

Otherwise, headaches can abound in the form of Frankensteined wiring, wheezy air conditioners, rust-eaten plumbing and other problems that can quickly wreck a budget.

Old school buildings are no different, and that’s a major problem for the Clark County School District. As pointed out in a top-to-bottom study of the district’s operations last year, CCSD hasn’t had an overall plan for predictive, preventive or routine maintenance for its 360 school buildings. Rather, the district has simply been addressing problems as they’ve occurred.

The result: CCSD is facing $6 billion in deferred maintenance costs. And in the meantime, far too many Southern Nevada children are being educated in buildings where air conditioners go out, rainwater runs in through the roof and the plumbing goes bad.

To her credit, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., has partnered with a Republican colleague, Todd Young of Indiana, to introduce a bill that would help CCSD and districts nationwide deal with their infrastructure needs. The proposal, called the Public Buildings Renewal Act, would allow districts to enter into public-private partnerships to replace old buildings with new schools.

But while Cortez Masto’s bill might help CCSD make some progress, far more funding will be needed to catch up to the problem.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether any relief is on the way from Carson City during this legislative session, which is more than halfway done. The district expects to receive about $55 million in new funding from the Legislature this year, but CCSD officials say that will only cover increased costs the district is facing in the form of inflation, PERS contributions and special education. Superintendent Jesus Jara told CCSD board members that the additional funding wouldn’t be enough to provide the 3 percent raises to teachers that both he and Gov. Steve Sisolak have supported.

The situation is deeply concerning. As homeowners know, deferred maintenance snowballs — the longer it’s put off, the more expensive it becomes due to increases in the prices of goods and services. Plumbers and electricians need raises, too.

The good news is that CCSD is addressing some of its needs through a $4.1 billion capital improvement plan created after the Legislature granted additional bonding authority to the district in 2015.

That plan has already resulted in replacements for several schools and modernization upgrades in others.

Meanwhile, after the lack of an overall maintenance plan was revealed in the study, we trust that Jara and his team are working to create one.

That’s absolutely crucial. Think of it in terms of a car — doing regular oil changes and other types of service can prevent or at least forestall all sorts of expensive repairs down the road.

Putting buildings on a regular maintenance schedule also is good, responsible government that will save taxpayers money.

The clock is ticking, too. Roughly a third of CCSD’s schools are at least 30 years old, and another third are 20 to 29 years old.That 20-29 range is significant, because that’s the age when systems tend to start failing.

Jara is doing his part to address the problem, and now lawmakers should work toward helping him.

Finding the money may be difficult this session, given that Sisolak has pledged not to raise taxes and instead fund teacher compensation increases with existing revenue.

But the longer the problem goes on, the more it compounds. Lawmakers must keep that in mind as they discuss school funding.

This must also be a top-of-mind thought: Children in the Las Vegas Valley deserve better than crumbling buildings.