Published Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 | 3:08 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 | 4:59 p.m.
The Clark County School Board is considering several options to alleviate overcrowded classrooms, including rezoning thousands of students and switching to a year-round schedule.
The School District will present six options to the School Board for a preliminary discussion during tonight's meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. This presentation comes a little over a month after voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax initiative that would have built two new elementary schools in the southwest valley to address overcrowding issues.
Although Clark County is no longer the fastest-growing school district in the nation – as student enrollment has largely plateaued since the recession – the School District continues to see growth in some areas of the Las Vegas Valley.
This school year, the School District experienced a record-high student enrollment of 311,380 students. Clark County is the nation's fifth-largest school district.
According to documents uploaded to the district website Thursday morning, enrollment at the district's 217 elementary schools is 9.7 percent over program capacity this year.
The district expects elementary school enrollment to continue growing next year by an additional 3,000 students.
A third of that growth is expected in the southwest part of the valley, where five elementary schools have more than 1,000 students. These schools are continuing to grow at an average rate of 6 percent – or 60 additional students – each year.
"We know that several CCSD schools are accommodating more students than they were intended to hold - adding strain on the infrastructure, and in some cases putting kids and staff in a less-than-desirable learning environment," district spokesman Amanda Fulkerson said in a statement. "Any changes to existing zones or schedules would be proceeded by extensive community meetings and opportunities for input."
The School Board will undertake preliminary discussions tonight on the six options. The board will likely consider options that would ensure student safety and impact the fewest possible number of students and families.
The six options are presented in no particular order, and the board is not expected to make any decisions tonight.
• Major rezoning
This is the most severe of the options the district is considering, potentially affecting thousands of students at "a large amount of schools."
Details are scant at this point, but rezoning would provide relief to a few hundred students at the schools with the highest enrollment for the coming school year.
However, rezoning would be a temporary solution that redistributes overcrowding to other schools. Continued growth could push student enrollment at the rezoned schools over 1,000 students again within two to three years.
If funding were to become available to build new schools, much of the potential rezoning would need to be undone, possibly forcing families to change schools again. The district also would incur the cost of moving portable classrooms around the valley under this proposal.
As with any rezoning, the School Board would need to consider the distance students and families would need to travel to their new school. Rezoned students could also experience a loss of community feeling if they separate from their friends.
• Year-round calendar
The district may change the three schools with the highest enrollments to a year-round schedule.
The three schools were not named in documents released Thursday morning, but they must meet the following criteria: 1. Student enrollment that is 125 percent over the building capacity, 2. A three-year average enrollment growth exceeding 5 percent, and 3. More than eight portable classrooms in use.
The following elementary schools in the southwest valley fall within those criteria: Batterman, Forbuss, Reedom, Tanaka and Wright.
This move would reduce the number of staff and students on campus at any given time by 20 percent, reducing traffic but increasing facility use and wear.
This option would not require many more portables and would keep current school communities intact. While still an unpopular decision, year-round scheduling is preferred by many families over rezoning.
However, year-round scheduling is expensive. The district would need to pay for additional staffing, utilities and transportation to keep the three schools open year-round.
Some students and teachers may be placed on a roving schedule, changing classrooms every five weeks. Teachers at year-round schools would also not be able to participate in summer trainings.
The School Board also would need to consider any impact on standardized testing and a potential increase in zone variances for families wishing to switch to a school with a nine-month schedule.
• Relocating selected programs and grade levels
The School District could look at relocating some entitlement programs to schools with fewer students or lease alternative facilities and house them there. Currently, as many as 11 classrooms on a school campus are used for special programs.
Potential programs that could be affected include: tuition-based kindergarten, Title I programs such as afterschool tutoring, early childhood education, full-day kindergarten and special education programs. (Full-day kindergarten is a voluntary, tuition-based program that could also be eliminated at some overcrowded campuses.)
Some grade levels also could be relocated to underused schools.
For example, fifth-graders could move to a middle school or a new satellite campus for fifth graders. Full-day kindergarten programs could be placed at high schools that offer childhood education courses to its students.
Strategically placing programs and students would better utilize district resources, increase classroom space and reduce the number of zone variances at overcrowded schools.
However, students may have longer bus rides if they do not attend their neighborhood school for certain programs and grade levels. (Bus rides would likely be limited to a maximum of one hour.) Under such a system, it’s possible siblings may not attend the same schools.
• Additional use of portables
Additional portable classrooms, restrooms and lunch rooms could be added at overcrowded campuses. This year, the district placed portable restrooms and a lunch room at Wright Elementary School in the southwest valley.
This is the district's most cost-effective option right now. There are enough portable classrooms available, and they can be relocated as enrollments increase or shift.
However, schools could potentially lose space on blacktops, fields and playgrounds. School schedules also would be impacted as additional lunch periods and staff are needed.
Portables are also still a temporary solution, and schools will still have to contend with additional students and traffic around campus.
• Portable elementary schools
A temporary elementary school campus could be built for about $8 million using portable classrooms and common area facilities. Temporary campuses could be built on sites designated for new permanent elementary schools.
Assuming permits for a portable campus are approved in a timely manner these schools could be built in less than a year – less than half the time it takes to construct a new permanent school.
At sites for future schools, most of the utility hookups and parking spaces could be done in preparation for permanent buildings. (This ancillary construction is estimated at $4 million, about half the total cost of building the portable campus.)
This option is much less expensive than building new permanent campuses; three portable campuses could be completed for the price of one permanent campus. However, portable campuses aren't as energy-efficient as permanent schools, which could add to the district's energy costs.
• Building new elementary schools
This is the most expensive and least likely option for the School Board since its proposed tax increase for school renovations and new buildings was rejected in November.
A new permanent elementary school is estimated to cost $26 million, and would take about two years to build. There are currently three sites in the southwest valley that could host new elementary schools.
The district is re-evaluating $68 million in current capital projects to see if building a new campus is a higher priority. Other capital funds are also being screened.
This would be a long-term solution that would alleviate some of the overcrowding issues in high-growth areas. It also would create a better sense of community on campus, and reduces the number of students that need to be rezoned.
However, capital funding is limited and this would take time, which is troublesome for schools that need immediate help.
• Check back later for more on this developing story.