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October 25, 2014

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education:

With student enrollment stable, district shifts focus to academics

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Paul Takahashi

Clark County Schools Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Pedro Martinez announces the 2011 student enrollment figures and staffing plans as Chief Human Resources Officer Staci Vesneske looks on on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.

CCSD student enrollment shrinks

The Clark County School District announced Tuesday the preliminary student enrollment figures for the 2011-2012 school year.

Enrollment figures

  • Preliminary total student enrollment: 308,447
  • Hispanic/Latino: 133,730 (43.4 percent)
  • White/Caucasian: 93,278 (30.2 percent)
  • Black/African-American: 37,052 (12.0 percent)
  • Asian/Asian-American: 20,381 (6.6 percent)
  • Multiracial: 17,828 (5.8 percent)
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 4,497 (1.5 percent)
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: 1,681 (0.5 percent)

After more than a decade of rapid population growth followed by the worst recession in 70 years, the Clark County School District’s student enrollment finally has stabilized, officials said.

For about 10 years, the numbers of students in the district exploded along with the valley’s population. However, enrollment figures have fallen slightly each year since its peak of 311,240 students in 2008. This trend continues for the third consecutive year as the School District released its preliminary student enrollment figures on Tuesday.

As of Sept. 23 — the official “count day” used by the state to determine per-pupil funding for public schools — the School District had 308,447 students.

That number, which will be verified by the district and the state Education Department in October, is a decrease of 1,446 students from the official count last year, and is about 1,000 students below projections for this year.

From 1998 to 2008, the School District grew by more than a third, building 112 schools as it became the fifth-largest district in the nation. Now, with enrollment stabilizing in the wake of the economic decline, the district has begun to focus on raising student academics — and in tandem, lowering class sizes.

Despite having fewer students in the classroom, the district still has one of the highest student-to-teacher ratios and class sizes in the country.

In 2009 — the most recent data available from the state — Nevada’s average student-teacher ratio was 18.5 to 1, the sixth-highest in the nation. A recent report found that even with 100 percent staffing levels, Clark County has more than 25 percent larger class sizes than peer districts in Miami and Houston.

As the district implements new initiatives to try to boost low student achievement, reducing class sizes is a priority, said School Board President Carolyn Edwards. However, because of budget cuts, lowering the student-teacher ratio has been a challenge, she said.

The district has staffed schools at 97 percent for the past four years as it slashed millions of dollars from its budget. This year, class sizes swelled to more than 40 students in some classrooms as the district cut $154 million from its budget, said Pedro Martinez, deputy superintendent of instruction.

“We’re asking ourselves, ‘Is it realistic (to expect) students can become proficient if there are 40 kids in a class?’” Martinez said. “... We’ve been struggling with these cuts. We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

To staff schools at 100 percent, the district would need to fill 139 positions at a cost of about $10 million. “Martinez said resources to do so don’t exist, even if the district receives concessions from its teachers union.

To maintain current student-teacher ratios, the district plans to shuffle teachers to schools with higher-than-expected enrollment figures, Martinez said. On the whole, enrollment is down at elementary schools, as expected in middle schools and higher than expected in high schools.

The district plans to staff middle and high schools at 100 percent, maintaining a student-teacher ratio around 32 to 1.

This would move 68 teachers to the middle school level and 122 teachers to the high school level. These positions will be filled by “displaced but qualified” elementary school teachers, Martinez said.

Teachers may also be brought in from secondary schools with fewer students, said Staci Vesneske, chief human resources officer. Eight high schools and 11 middle schools have lower-than-expected student enrollment this year, so they will be reducing their staff, she said.

The district plans to staff elementary schools at 98 percent, a slight increase from current levels. (The average student-teacher ratio is 18 to 1 for first to third grades, and 31 to 1 for fourth and fifth grades.)

Although average staffing levels have increased, it has not been offset by the enrollment decline — about 1,000 students — at the elementary school level. As a result, the district plans to shed 176 teachers from 119 elementary schools.

However, because 147 of those positions are vacant, Martinez said he is confident the district can avoid layoffs by moving affected elementary school teachers to schools with higher enrollment figures.

At the poorest elementary schools, however, the district will maintain staffing levels at 100 percent, Martinez said. These “Title 1” schools will use federal dollars to implement a class-size reduction plan, he said.

District officials acknowledge this reshuffling of staff is disruptive to schools where students might find themselves with a new teacher more than a month into the new school year. The district might have to reshuffle more teachers in coming months as it seeks $56 million in concessions from its employee unions.

The contract negotiation between the district and its teacher union is at an impasse, and is likely to be decided by an arbitrator later this school year. If the arbitrator decides against the district’s proposed concessions, district officials warn they may need to eliminate more than 500 positions.

Despite the uncertainty of contract negotiation outcomes, the district moved forward with its staffing decisions because “it’s the right thing to do now,” Martinez said.

“For us to have 40 kids in a classroom and to change our (low testing) statistics, we have to act now,” he said. “We feel it’s more important to serve our students.”

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