Lawmakers launch Clark County School District breakup study

Published Mon, Oct 12, 2015 (1:52 p.m.)

Updated Mon, Oct 12, 2015 (3:24 p.m.)

There have been many questions raised since lawmakers voted earlier this year to develop a plan to break up the Clark County School District.

Questions like, who will hold the purse strings? What will happen with the district’s specialized magnet schools and career and technical academies? What will the teacher’s union say? Will the county be divided into the haves and have-nots?

In the face of those kinds of questions and at today’s first-ever meeting of the nine-member legislative committee tasked with examining the issue, Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky unveiled a plan to reorganize the district into seven Instructional Precincts based on the School Board’s election boundaries.

In the meeting, Skorkowsky acknowledged that the district could be more responsive to the concerns of the community.

“I think there are opportunities to increase our ability to provide a quality education,” Skorkowsky said.

Under the plan, much of the decision-making for schools would fall to each precinct superintendent, who would be appointed by and report to Skorkowsky. The district’s central office, which now hands down policy to hundreds of schools, would handle large-scale operations, such as human resources and facilities management.

Each precinct would have several advisory committees, which, unlike the School Board, wouldn’t have decision-making authority. That power would remain with the board, though each member would be required to maintain office hours in their own precinct and participate in the advisory committees.

“It makes sure the decisions that need to remain centralized... remain within the district,” Skorkowsky said.

The district’s plan, however, would create precincts that are radically different when it comes to racial makeup and economic status.

For instance, Trustee District D, represented by Kevin Child, includes a large swathe of inner-city Las Vegas and is about 8 percent white and 77 percent Latino. Other districts, namely those that include rural areas and suburbs, contain larger numbers of white and Asian students.

Skorkowsky said concerns about inequality would be mitigated by the fact that each precinct would receive funding based on the number of students served. “With the funds following the students, we are trying to level the playing field,” he said.

The district says it is ready to move forward with the plan and estimates it could be implemented by the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

Skorkowsky’s presentation seemed to please State Republican Sen. Michael Roberson, who was elected chair of the committee.

“I want to thank you for taking the proactive approach,” Roberson said. “I appreciate you coming forward with a proposal.”

Today’s meeting comes on the heels of a report regarding a potential breakup released last week by the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

It argued that an early goal of the committee must be to come up with a plan to engage the community, noting a contentious breakup of Utah’s then-largest Jordan School District in 2009.

The breakup of the Utah district cost taxpayers upwards of $59 million in one-time expenses and resulted in an increase in property taxes of more than 15 percent, while showing modest performance gains.

The report noted that “simply reconfiguring CCSD will not improve student achievement.”

The next meeting of the committee will be in November, after the initial meeting of the group’s Technical Advisory Committee. The committee is made up of community members, school officials and politicians and will make its own recommendations to the larger body.

“I think we just scratched the surface today,” Roberson said. “We have a long process ahead of us.”

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