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September 2, 2014

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Education:

Elaine Wynn’s nonprofit wins use of federal dollars to expand in schools

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Communities in Schools coordinator Kalan Washington cheers students as they make their way to lunch at Bridger Middle School on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012.

Communities in Schools

Communities in Schools coordinator Kalah Washington walks and talks with a student at Bridger Middle School Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Elaine Wynn Speaks at Las Metro Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

Elaine Wynn waits to be introduced during a Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce Business Power Luncheon at the Rio Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

One of Clark County’s most powerful and well-connected nonprofit organizations won a bid for up to $700,000 in federal funding from the Clark County School District.

Since 2004, Communities in Schools of Nevada has provided food, clothing, school supplies and counseling to thousands of disadvantaged children at 12 schools. Until this year, the nonprofit raised private funding to provide “wraparound services” to Clark County students.

However, the nonprofit approached the School Board this summer with an idea to expand its services to eight more schools.

Communities in Schools, founded by philanthropist and state Board of Education President Elaine Wynn, would bring $7 million in private funding to the table — $6 million from Wynn and $1 million from the Engelstad Foundation — to expand its services to 20 schools.

But the nonprofit wanted the School District “to have some skin in the game.” Communities in Schools asked the district to pitch in $580,000 in federal Title I funding to help it expand.

Although it expressed gratitude for the organization's work, the Clark County School Board balked, rejecting Communities in Schools' proposal. Board members instead required the nonprofit to compete against other nonprofits for the federal funding.

Their disagreement ignited a philosophical debate over the role public schools should play in providing basic necessities to needy children and raised the question of whether a well-heeled nonprofit such as Communities in Schools deserves taxpayer money to help disadvantaged children.

On one hand, School Board member Linda Young argued she wanted local and federal government agencies to provide these services. Young said the federal Title I dollars should be used to educate children — not to fund services that feed and clothe them.

On the other hand, Communities in Schools and district leaders argued Title I funding can be used for services that help students do better in school. If students are hungry or focused on a troubled home life, they can’t concentrate in class, they said.

At the School Board’s behest, the district put out a request for proposals and received three bids. Last week, the School Board awarded up to $700,000 to two applicants: Communities in Schools and Boys Town of Nevada, which has mentored about 80 low-income parents on how to help their children succeed in school.

In January and February, the two groups will pitch their services to principals at 221 schools receiving Title I funding as the district-approved vendors for wraparound services. The principals can choose to partner with either nonprofit or not provide wraparound services at all and instead focus on educational services.

“I think this is a new and exciting approach to provide wraparound services to our most needy kids,” said Susie Lee, board president of Communities in Schools. “It’s incredible that it allows schools to decide whether to opt in to services.”

The $700,000 contract would have to be renewed annually by the School Board for up to six years. Communities in Schools and Boys Town will have to prove that their services have positive effects on student achievement.

“We need to be clear about what is expected. There are deliverables that will be needed,” School Board member Chris Garvey said. “For us, that’s where are we starting and how much did we move the bar? What was our return on investment? I want to know how your organization ... can move the needle.”

Lee said she is hopeful principals and the district will continue to see the value in the work of Communities in Schools.

The organization has been required to demonstrate “return on investment” for its private funders, Lee said. It’s willing to do the same for the School District.

“We’re very confident with being held accountable and held to high standards because our other funders already hold us accountable,” Lee said. “We will exceed the expectations of the School District.”

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