Published Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 | 4 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 | 6:34 a.m.
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The Clark County School District's tax initiative to fund school renovations has failed.
The capital improvement plan lost steam even before the final votes were tallied Tuesday night, as more than two-thirds of voters said no to the tax increase in early voting.
Nearly 463,700 Clark County residents cast early ballots for Question 2, according to the Clark County Elections Department. There were 312,128 votes — or 67 percent of all early votes — cast against the School District proposal.
"That majority is pretty wide," said Joyce Haldeman, the district's associate superintendent of community and government relations, shortly after early vote results were released before 9 p.m. "I don't see how we can overcome that."
That large margin persisted until the final results came in around midnight. The initiative was overwhelmingly rejected, 65.6 percent to 34.4 percent.
This represents the first time in about 25 years that a capital improvement proposal put forward by the School District has failed, Haldeman said.
The nation's fifth-largest school district was seeking voter approval to temporarily raise property taxes by 21 cents per $100 in assessed valuation for up to six years, or about $74 per year on a property assessed at $100,000.
The School District had hoped to generate up to $720 million over the six-year capital program to fund high-priority renovations and technology upgrades at 40 schools. These schools are among the district's oldest and most dilapidated schools, facing unreliable heating and cooling systems, leaking roofs and flooding floors, inadequate electrical outlets and crowded classroom space.
The capital program also would have funded construction of two new elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding in the southwest valley, and the replacement of aging Lincoln and Rex Bell elementary schools.
Haldeman blamed the recession for the tax initiative's failure. That was something the School District had worried about for months leading up to the School Board's June decision to pursue the pay-as-you-go plan.
"These economic times are so difficult right now," Haldeman said, adding the district was disappointed in the results. "The message we got tonight was, 'not yet.' We'll learn from this and figure out what's next."
What's next may be that as HVAC and electrical systems continue to fail, schools may become too unsafe for students, Haldeman said. For months, district officials warned of possible school closures in the future, as well as a return to the unpopular year-round school schedule.
This will not happen tomorrow, Haldeman said, as the School Board will decide on these drastic measures on a school-by-school basis.
"As systems fail and schools face difficulties, there will be tough decisions made by the trustees," Haldeman said.
Even with the help of a political action committee spearheaded by four former first ladies of Nevada, Question 2 was met with fierce opposition, notably from the Nevada Policy Research Institute.
"Tonight, Clark County voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax increase that would not have increased student achievement but would have enabled more wasteful spending by CCSD officials," said NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks in a statement Tuesday night. "The most encouraging thing about this election is that voters rejected the district's spin that more spending would increase student achievement."
The libertarian think-tank filed an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to derail the proposal from getting on the ballot and questioned the district's need for $669 million in school renovations.
NPRI also argued the average age of a Las Vegas school was 22 years old, which is about half the average age of schools nationally. In addition, NPRI found the district had spent $490 million since 1994 on school construction projects at the 40 schools slated for improvements.
The district responded, saying about a third of its 357 schools were more than 30 years old. About a quarter, or 28, of those schools are more than 50 years old.
Officials also argued that Clark County spends less money than some of its peer districts on school maintenance. As the recession ravaged Las Vegas, the School District deferred crucial school repairs, slashed its maintenance budget and postponed asking voters for a new school bond program in 2008 and 2010.
Voters — young and old and from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds — seemed to have mixed opinions on Question 2 as they came out in droves earlier Tuesday to cast their ballots.
As expected, voters with strong ties to the School District were more likely to support the tax initiative.
Laura Abarza, a 21-year-old local high school graduate who is currently enrolled at CSN, said Clark County schools need the additional tax dollars to alleviate overcrowding in classrooms.
"I don't care if we need to pay more," Abarza said. "I don't mind paying extra in taxes to get the schools back on track."
Erika Calleros, a 28-year-old California transplant who works in real estate, said she supported the capital improvement plan. Calleros has a 6-year-old child in the School District.
"Seeing the schools, it's clear they need repairs," Calleros said. "I don't see why not. Why not contribute a little more to help schools. It's minimal."
On the other hand, some voters said they wouldn't support the tax initiative for a variety of reasons. They tended to be older voters who were more removed from the School District.
Bill Evans, 59, and his wife, Rebbecca Evans, 55, rode their bikes early Tuesday afternoon to John Bass Elementary School in the southern valley. They once had two children in the School District but enrolled them in a private school because of the district's poor education rankings.
The Evanses didn't support the tax initiative because they said the School District received enough money in per-pupil funding.
"There needs to be better management," Bill Evans said. "I know we need new facilities, but we've invested a lot in that. We ought to be able to (fix schools) without going to the voters."
Some voters said a tax hike during the middle of an economic recovery in Las Vegas wasn't a prudent idea.
RJ Magee, 25, works at his family's local HVAC business. He said he was worried about homeowners and small businesses that might be hurt by the tax increase for schools.
"With the economy down, I don't want to increase taxes," he said.
UNLV junior Sheena Staana, 20, agreed.
"I don't want to raise property taxes," said the Philippines native who became a naturalized American citizen. "We pay a lot of taxes already."
Other voters simply said they couldn’t afford additional taxes.
"I have no money," said Marcus Gordon, 40, a military veteran. "I know schools are important, but they can get it from somewhere else. Can't tax me if I don't have it."