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December 22, 2014

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District weighs property tax hike to repair, modernize schools

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Leila Navidi

Principal Tim Adams of Rex Bell Elementary School checks out a roof leak on school grounds in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011.

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One of the facility rooms inside Rex Bell Elementary School in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011.

Las Vegas residents may be voting this November on more than the next president of the United States. The Clark County School District is likely to seek public approval for a new capital campaign, which may raise property taxes as high as $74 a year on a $100,000 home.

The School District estimates it will need $5.3 billion to repair and modernize its school buildings over the next 10 years. Faced with multimillion-dollar budget cuts from the state, the district slashed its maintenance funding in recent years, delaying necessary repairs to school facilities.

Paint is peeling, roofs are leaking and air conditioning units are failing at many of the district’s 357 schools — now averaging 22 years old. Other schools lack the technology — computers, smart boards and other gadgets — to educate students for the jobs of the 21st century, officials say.

To rehabilitate old schools, the School Board is exploring several options that would allow the district to issue bonds to fund construction and maintenance of schools. The School Board heard the proposals — all of which require tax hikes — during its regular meeting Thursday night.

For the district to issue bonds, its revenues — mainly from property taxes — must exceed its debt on previous bond measures, which are still being repaid. But because of the depressed housing market, the district does not expect to have the bonding capacity for another six years — until 2018.

That may be too late for some of the district’s oldest and most dilapidated schools, said Jeff Weiler, the district’s chief financial officer. Without additional funding, “quite a number of schools” may have to close for safety reasons, he added.

“You’re really living on borrowed time,” Weiler told the somber-looking School Board.

Weiler proposed two options to fund a new capital campaign. All of the proposals must be approved by voters, the Clark County Debt Management Commission and a state oversight panel for school facilities.

• Option 1 would raise the current property tax rate from 55 cents to 77 cents, which equates to a tax hike of $74.20 per year on a $100,000 home. This would generate $550 million, boosting the district’s bonding capacity by 2014. The district would then go to the voters again for approval on a 10-year bond program, which would generate $5.1 billion in total capacity. Property taxes would remain increased for the duration of the program, until 2024.

• Option 2 would also raise the property tax rate by 22 cents, but allow a six-year capital levy, which would fund renovations on a pay-as-you-go system. This would generate $669 million in bonding capacity for the district by 2018, at which time the district would go to the voters again to approve a 10-year bond program, which would generate $4.7 billion in total capacity. The property tax rate would drop to the current rate of 55 cents after the six-year levy.

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One of the facility rooms inside Rex Bell Elementary School in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011.

If a new capital bond program were approved, the majority of the money — about $3.4 billion — would go toward renovating and replacing old schools. About $1 billion would go to new technology and equipment for schools. The rest of the bond money would help build new schools in growing regions of the valley, and help the district strive for “educational equity” among its schools.

All seven School Board members supported the bonding options, but acknowledged that the district would need to gauge the public’s appetite for a tax increase amid record-high unemployment and foreclosures.

“Trying to ask taxpayers to pay more in this recession is a difficult thing to do,” School Board member John Cole said. “But we can’t do nothing.”

Cole favored seizing the low interest rate environment to issue bonds, before the economy picks up and the district ends up paying higher interest. “The longer we wait, the more it’ll cost us,” he said.

School Board member Chris Garvey was adamant she wouldn’t sit on her hands while schools continue to deteriorate. She advocated for a tax increase to help pay for school maintenance, saying, “I think I could shell out $75 a year.”

“We would be remiss as a board if we didn’t even ask our public what their input on that would be,” she said. “I can guarantee you that I would have a lot of parents angry at me if I told them their schools were going to be closed and I didn’t give them the option to tell me no.”

If the capital campaign is rejected by voters, the district may revert to year-round schools, said School Board member Carolyn Edwards. Last school year, the district went to a nine-month calendar to save $200 million in personnel costs. Any school closures may necessitate going back to a year-round school calendar to accommodate all students.

“When the air conditioning doesn’t work and it’s 110 degrees outside, we’ll probably have to close some schools,” Edwards said. “The rehabs make a huge difference to students and staff. The energy inside of these buildings changes and I think it makes a huge difference in student achievement.”

School Board President Linda Young initially suggested delaying any action until 2013, citing the tight four-month time frame in which to educate voters about the tax increase and bond program.

“I do see that we have to do something, but what we have to do is study this a bit more and be more in tune with the people in our community who are really suffering right now,” she said. “Anything like a property tax increase is devastating to some of these people, who just the thought of it sends them into a tailspin. I don’t know if the appetite is there at this time for a property tax rate increase.”

School Board member Erin Cranor suggested that officials bring the matter to a public meeting in March that would update voters on educational reform efforts in the district and gauge whether there is interest in a tax increase for school maintenance.

The School District must submit the ballot questions to the Clark County election department by June. The School Board directed its staff to first conduct research on the feasibility of a property tax increase, and then to form a committee that would conduct focus groups and research ways to target voters.

“It’s unrealistic to turn (the district around) on a dime when it’s cuts, cuts, cuts,” said School Board member Deanna Wright. “To become a world-class school district, we have to invest so we can run this district in a world-class way.”

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  1. I don't want to spend one dime til we have a full accounting of the administrative staff costs vs. teachers and maintenance. We are what, the fifth largest school district in the country? Why?!?

    That large size tells me that there has to be a very large amount of waste present. Anyone who has ever read "The Mythical Man-month" knows why I say that.

  2. The People of the State of Nevada are still reeling from this bust economy and have little spendable income. Seniors are feeling a severe crunch, and can ill afford yet another hike in anything. High density housing residents can NOT afford their rents going up, especially when two or more families are living together. And small business owners certainly do not need this, it will become a reason to move elsewhere and set up shop.

    It may be time to require families to supply their children's paper, notebooks, pencils, erasers, textbooks, Scholastic subscriptions, as do some school districts in states, Illinois comes to mind! Making PARENTS more responsible for their offspring just might save this school district the needed funds and trim WASTE (many many children are abusive with school supplies-and when teachers address this with parents, there is little to zero support).

    Neighborhood communities should be supporting their schools any and every way possible. Schools are NOT charities, as some have come to view them. People move to neighborhood with nice schools. The schools are the centerpiece and deal cutters for where many people decide to live.

    Sure, you can raise the property tax, but will it bring the changes you are looking for? People may decide they cannot take this hike presently, no matter how noble and possibly needed. This could have an adverse affect with driving people OUT of the area and further impacting our local economy.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  3. The administrative staff has to be reduced by 40% and then we can talk about maintenance projects. What do these so called administrators do all day/ Beats me. A profit making business would have eliminated their jobs in a minute. I am tired of these administrators whining and complaining.

  4. Next, look at administrative salaries, and compare them to the national average. Are the salaries of the school district's administrators in line with the rest of the other 49 states of the USA? Can school policies be adjusted to shift responsibilities? Dealing with student behavior issues is high on the list on what a school site administrator spends time on. Schools having students with chronic behavioral problems should have the option of removing that student to an alternative education school or online learning education. If discipline has been ineffective during ONE school year, that student needs the extra support and a more appropriate setting. Test scores will not increase significantly when problem students are tuned out and are disrupting education in the mainstream classrooms.

    You are probably wondering why I made note of administration and chronic student discipline problems. It is to expose readers to the reality that even IF a school has the best, most current, cutting edge technology and learning ENVIRONMENT, if the CONDITIONS are lacking, the bottom line of learning is adversely affected.

    We don't have an excess on teaching staff. That human resource is already being stretched to the limits. School sites are adequate, and have hit a plateau, so we don't need to keep on building new schools at the present. Are schools being economical about their power useage? I know my school is, as we have regularly won energy audits, because teachers are taking the extra time to insure dormant machines are shut down or turned off when not in active use. Are there recycling efforts at a school site, for textbooks and materials? Does a school site have a "share table" where good, used, reuseable materials can be recycled to another teacher's classroom? Do the school site custodians keep a watch on what is being thrown out, to curtail waste, to recycle, making sure taxpayer purchased items are NOT tossed into the dumpster without merit? (Just check a site dumpster at the end and beginning of the school year, it will horrify you!)Are there fund raisers for field trips and assemblies?

    Examining the underpinnings of the educational organization and network might just provide the needed information CITIZENS seek before making a decision to tie another economic millstone around their necks. Folks out there support education, but they are not convinced that the administration is being completely honest and straight-forward on what has been done to conserve funding. Too many citizens see waste and wonder why it has not been sufficiently addressed. I hear it all the time on the streets of Clark County. Just saying....

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  5. Did anybody notice the recent article stating that President Obama cut several states some NCLB educational slack on meeting deadlines and NEVADA WAS NOT LISTED AMONG THEM????

    Now permit me to rant here. Nevada is one the lowest ranking in education in the whole United States: FACT. Nevada school districts have been shifting to the "Growth Model": FACT.

    Not a single school administrator came to meet President Obama at the airport a few weeks ago: FACT. Only kind, responsible, classy, humorful, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman came to meet the President of the United States, on that lonesome tarmac!

    You would think, that with the educational challenges Nevada has, and has been actively addressing, SOMEONE from education would have met our President!

    Kindly indulge me: If the Good Lord came to Las Vegas, Nevada on that jet (no, the President of the USA is not equal in this case), would He also receive such a reception as the President? What is going on in our society?

    Totally confounded over this. And I am NOT the only one!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  6. Remember Sandavol's budget removed $300 million from the school district's construction/maintenance fund http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/feb...

    "Jeff Weiler, the district's chief financial officer, said complying with the Sandoval plan would force Clark County to raise property taxes or go to the public markets with new higher-interest bonds that would be difficult to sell."

  7. Sandoval's original budget tried to sweep the district's construction/maintenance fund as well as many other funds from other governments. It was his attempt to balance the budget. However, if you remember toward the very end of the legislative session, the Nevada Supreme Court said that doing that was unconstitutional. Then Sandoval had to reverse himself and accept an extension of the taxes that were due to sunset to balance his budget.

  8. I hear that next year many of the middle schools will be moving to a scripted workbook model where the teachers are only allowed to read a script for the lesson and the kids just work from a workbook. This takes away any creativity that the teachers add in order to reach the students (7th graders could care less about learning much of anything let alone grammar). Of course when this doesn't work the teachers will be blamed.

    I'm glad I make enough that I can afford to pull my kids out of the public schools and send them to a private school. I feel bad for those who can't.

  9. @staralioflundlv

    Nevada is applying for the No Child Left Behind waiver later this month as part of the second round of waiver applications. Yesterday's announcement -- which exempted 10 states from NCLB's standards -- was part of the first round of applications.

  10. No Property Tax Increases until Mining And Casinos pay their fair share, the fix the top heavy Schools District Administration and lastly come up with a new way to fairly Fund Classrooms without adding new Property Taxes. Salaries are still declining while Electric, Water, Medical and everyone else wants more.

  11. I will vote NO. The District needs to downsize the amount of money they want. A $5 Billion dollar Bond can not all be spent at one time and leaves too much out there for fraud, waste, and abuse. The District needs to re-look at all the maintenance needs and show the public what those needs are and how much it will cost to make repairs. Just because a facility is old doesn't make it bad. If the roof is leaking as badly as the District says, repair it. The money is there in the Bonds they didn't spend. Or, has the District fiddled away all the money and can't account for it?

  12. A prisoner in a Mexican jail must PURCHASE all of his/her necessities, including toilet paper, soap, writing paper, food, EVERYTHING. If the family cannot pay, too bad.

    There's an idea - charge the damn criminals for everything they need and use and give the money to the schools.

    Another idea: Every convicted criminal with a personal defense attorney that loses a case, the personal defense attorney must give HALF of his take to the schools to fund an alternative school for disruptive teenagers. AND, the parents of these delinquents must purchase all of their own supplies.

    -OR-

    What about asking Steve Wynn for $135 million like his corporation donated to a communist Chinese university? Such donations should be forbidden.

    Get off of my back about taxing ME anymore!