Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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School safety in Southern Nevada is paramount, now more than ever

At a rate of more than once per week during this academic year, a student or parent has been caught bringing a firearm or BB gun to a school in the Clark County School District.

An 18-year-old was shot and killed on the campus of Canyon Springs High School in September, and a young student was injured in a shooting near Stanford Elementary School in January. And all the while, lockdowns have occurred on a disturbingly regular basis amid phoned-in threats and violent incidents in surrounding neighborhoods.

For these and other reasons, it’s crucial that Nevada lawmakers keep working toward providing state funding to the school district to improve safety.

Early in the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Steve Sisolak made a commendable move by recommending that $54 million in revenue from recreational marijuana taxes be steered away from the rainy day fund and into school safety.

But recently, after Sisolak introduced a bill that would funnel all of the marijuana revenue to increase per-pupil funding and provide raises for teachers, members of a joint Senate and Assembly committee gutted the school safety funding by more than $30 million. What remains will go to rural school districts, with Clark and Washoe counties now expected to pay for school safety through their own capital improvement funds or sales tax levies.

In Clark County, at least, that’s a major problem. The school district already faces $6 billion in deferred maintenance needs — upgrading or replacing old facilities.

“I’m extremely concerned,” CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara told school board members Monday during a special meeting. “As you know from our data (from a survey of students), 20% of our children do not feel safe. So I feel this cut will hurt our safety, which is our top priority in our schools.”

Some might quibble that the reduction was not technically a cut, since Sisolak’s recommendation was all new money for school safety, but let’s not get stuck in the weeds.

If it’s appropriate to provide funding for safety in rural schools, then it’s fair to provide it for Clark and Washoe counties too.

To their credit, Sisolak and legislative leaders are working toward increasing overall funding and also revamping the state’s archaic funding formula, which should benefit the urban districts.

But while those are terrific steps forward, they shouldn’t be made at the expense of school safety.

As Jara noted in his remarks to the board, maintaining students’ safety is the district’s No. 1 priority.

That’s as it should be. Educating students is critical, but there’s nothing more important than protecting them from harm.

“Our students are facing adult issues,” Jara said. “We are uniquely challenged in Clark County to ensure that we provide a safe and nurturing learning environment for our children.”

Jara is right about those unique challenges. Compared to their counterparts in rural areas, local school officials contend with disturbingly high rates of gun violence and domestic violence. In addition, hundreds of schools here were designed at a time when school shootings were virtually unheard of, meaning the district faces enormous costs in making them more secure.

Then there’s simply the size of the school district. With about 320,000 students and 360 buildings, it dwarfs the other districts in the state.

So the school safety funding is critical. Conversely, we also can’t throw up our hands and say, “OK, let’s cut back on investing in teachers, then.” Every dollar we invest in education comes back to benefit Clark County — and therefore the state, since we drive Nevada’s economy — by making it a more attractive place to live, work, start businesses, etc. Communities that stress education funding of all types — including safety — are usually the most successful communities in America. We should do it all.

CCSD is proactively addressing safety in a variety of ways, including a weapons search program and by hiring K-9 officers trained to detect firearms.

But with a recent survey showing that 20% of CCSD students don’t feel safe at school, there’s a long way to go.

To their credit, Sisolak and legislative leaders have continued to discuss school safety funding. School district administrators also are hard at work on the matter, having conversations with lawmakers and letting them know that restoring the proposed funding is one of their top priorities.

With this year’s legislative session now in its final full week, there will be a huge amount of work to be done on any number of big issues. But lawmakers owe it to urban schoolchildren to find a way to help fund school safety across the state.