Published Friday, July 19, 2019 | 12:17 a.m.
Updated Friday, July 19, 2019 | 6:59 a.m.
One thing is certain: It will take more than a sales tax increase to fix the budget shortfalls and internal problems at the Clark County School District. That was the consensus Thursday during a joint meeting between the Clark County Board of Commissioners and CCSD Board of Trustees.
“I firmly believe these issues will not be resolved without intentional focus and steadfast communication,” CCSD Trustee President Lola Brooks said.
The meeting set a new precedent in Nevada because it was believed to be the first time elected officials from a school district met with a county board to discuss solutions in education. Funding quickly became the theme of the night.
Educators, during public comment, told officials that teachers are being placed in classrooms with limited resources and low-income, high-risk students.
“We are in desperate need of funds,” said Alexis Salt, a parent and teacher at Leavitt Middle School. “Money doesn’t solve everything, but it really can help solve the teacher crisis.”
Assembly Bill 309, approved by the 2019 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak, gives county commissions across Nevada the ability to institute a quarter-cent sales tax increase, with the proceeds earmarked to help fund education and social services like affordable housing programs, workforce training and truancy reduction programs.
If approved in Clark County, the increase would raise an estimated $108 million annually, according to state officials.
Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said at a July 2 meeting that legislators have expressed the desire for half the sales tax revenue go toward education, though not specifically mandated in the bill.
Commissioners have been mostly cautious about proceeding with a sales tax, including some who have expressed frustration over the commission’s strained partnership with the school district.
One of the biggest gripes held by commissioners is what they see as a lack of cooperation on the Open Schools-Open Doors interlocal agreement, which allows for increased recreational opportunities — sports leagues and scouting, for instance — by the general public after school hours.
But commissioners such as Kirkpatrick and Lawrence Weekly said they have faced nothing but barriers when working with schools in their districts to facilitate these programs.
“We want to use your schools because we feel they belong to the community,” Kirkpatrick said. “We all pay for them, and I want to know if there are any barriers from us doing that.”
According to CCSD officials, the Bureau of Land Management has been an incessant barrier, as many of the schools are located on BLM land, making the BLM the authoritative agency for the use of the land after school hours.
Both the county and School District boards directed staff to investigate which school sites the BLM will allow for after-school activities.
Trustees and CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara spoke with commissioners on potential solutions regarding many challenges facing the district, including student truancy, strengthening pre-kindergarten and adult education programs, and teacher vacancy in schools.
Trustee Linda Young emphasized the importance of making early childhood education a priority, which Kirkpatrick agreed is worthwhile to invest in.
“I know if we invest in pre-K, our education standing goes up,” Kirkpatrick said.
In regard to the truancy problem, CCSD has set a goal to reduce chronic absenteeism down to 16% by 2024. It is currently at 18.7%.
Commissioner Justin Jones said he wants to take a closer look at two Nevada-based programs — the Harbor and Boys Town Nevada — targeting truancy issues. Jones said those programs have “scalability” as far as tracking success.
“When we are talking about raising tax dollars, we want to be strategic about how we spend them,” he said.
The joint board also discussed ways to provide an incentive for teachers to stay in the district. This was another issue that goes beyond monetary solutions, officials said.
“A lot of them are burnt out,” Trustee Danielle Ford said. “I’ve heard from multiple sources that mental health services and support programs alone would probably be incentive for them to stay.”