Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2014

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education:

Fewer students, but same funding

School districts have a year to adjust to less state money

Enrollment has declined in 13 of Nevada’s 17 school districts since last year, a loss of 1,494 students overall.

But because of a statute known as the “hold harmless” provision, the state will still have to pay the districts a total of $9.5 million in per-pupil funding for students who are no longer there.

Only four districts — Clark, Eureka, Lincoln and Storey counties — had enrollment growth, albeit on a modest scale. In Clark County, the nation’s fifth-largest district, enrollment was up just under 1 percent.

Districts don’t know how many students they have until the official “count day” at the end of September. But employee contracts are finalized months earlier.

The “hold harmless” provision is intended to give districts a “soft landing” and more time to prepare for loss of state funding and possible layoffs, said Jim Wells, deputy superintendent of fiscal and administrative services for the Nevada Education Department.

Before 2007 school districts were allowed to continue claiming the higher enrollment number for up to two years after a decline. But during the previous legislative session lawmakers tightened the provision, protecting school district budgets for just one year if the enrollment decline was less than 5 percent.

The idea behind the change was to put more pressure on districts “to take corrective action,” Wells said. When the more generous rule was in place, it allowed them “to postpone the inevitable,” he said.

The largest enrollment drop was in rural Lyon County, which as of the September “count day” had 8,623 students, down 322 from the prior academic year. Superintendent Caroline McIntosh said another 117 have since left.

But a new industrial park opening in adjacent Storey County is expected to bring new jobs — and new students to Lyon County schools, McIntosh said. That’s why she’s fearful of having to lay off teachers only to need them again in a year or two.

“This is a little speed bump,” McIntosh said. “I’m optimistic we’re going to be right back up again.”

•••

Volunteers are needed to make sure the educational needs of foster children with disabilities are being met.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, the Surrogate Parent Initiative is in its second year. Volunteers typically attend one or two meetings each year at the child’s school and stay in regular contact with social workers and foster parents.

Thirty volunteers helped 34 students last year, but hundreds of other children are waiting for help, said Laurie Richardson, who helped create the program and is an advocate at the Legal Aid Center.

In 2004 Congress revised the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requiring that students in foster care be assigned a surrogate parent to watch over their schooling. Federal law also requires all special education students to have an Individualized Education Plan.

The surrogate parent’s primary responsibility is making sure the child’s special education services are being provided, as required by federal law. In some cases that means meeting with school administrators and teachers, and keeping the county social worker assigned to the case informed of problems.

Although teaching experience isn’t necessary and volunteers don’t have to be parents, interested adults must attend an orientation meeting. It will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. March 13 at the Sunbelt Antique & Classic Auto Museum, 1424 Gragson Ave. To attend or for more information, e-mail [email protected] or call 386-1070, ext. 140.

•••

Offers of help are pouring in to Whitney Elementary School, in the wake of a Sun story about the friendship the campus has developed with the private Merryhill School in Summerlin.

Whitney, near Tropicana Avenue and Boulder Highway, serves students drawn from the weekly motels and public housing surrounding the campus. Many of the 600 students are homeless.

The school provides food, clothing and basic medical care for its students, largely funded by community donations. Four years ago the Merryhill School “adopted” Whitney, and holds annual clothing, food and toy drives on its behalf. The private school’s fifth graders look forward to visiting Whitney, where they deliver collected goods and read to the younger students.

Some Sun readers have sent checks, ranging from $20 to $100, said Whitney Principal Sherrie Gahn. There was also a $1,500 donation from Nevada State Bank. And there have been offers to stage food drives on the school’s behalf.

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