If you like your public school, you may not be able to keep your public school.
On that promise, the Clark County School District has been transparent. Last year, voters overwhelmingly rejected a property tax increase that would have funded nearly $700 million in school construction and renovations. Now the nation’s fifth-largest school district, which opened a dozen new schools per year throughout this valley’s economic boom, has no money for capital projects to accommodate its over-capacity, growing enrollment.
So the system again is carrying out the painful, unpopular process of balancing school enrollments to ease crowding at some campuses and fill empty classrooms at others. The district is redrawing the attendance zone boundaries that will decide which neighborhoods go to which schools for the 2014-15 academic year.
It’s an emotional procedure for parents who are involved in their children’s education. Being rezoned means blowing up routines, leaving friends and, in some cases, being shifted from a high-performing school to a low-performing one. It’s critical that school communities have timely access to rezoning information and the opportunity for thoughtful participation in the decisions that affect them.
In that regard, the school district has not been transparent. And it needs to fix the problems fast.
Rezoning runs through the Attendance Zone Advisory Commission, an appointed board that considers a number of maps and factors before making recommendations to the superintendent and Clark County School Board. The commission is in the preliminary phase of creating new attendance zones for a number of schools across town, and it is basing its work on preliminary maps.
For parents, maps of rezoning scenarios are everything. How can you comment on the rezoning process if you don’t know which zone you’re in?
Although the commission’s meetings have been properly noticed, as of Friday afternoon, the preliminary maps weren’t on the school district’s website (ccsd.net) or the commission’s website (azac.ccsd.net). In fact, for an undetermined time, the commission’s website wasn’t accessible from outside the school district’s network. I noticed the problem Wednesday in trying to get information about Thursday’s meeting. I couldn’t access the site from work, home or my phone. District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said technology staff were able to fix the problem, and sure enough, the commission site was working Friday — sans maps.
Under the state’s open meeting law, supporting materials (such as maps) for agenda items must be made available to the public once they’re provided to the members of a public body. As it turns out, commission members aren’t getting the preliminary maps in a timely fashion, either. When I requested the maps for Thursday’s meeting, I received them via email at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Commission members acknowledged during Thursday’s meeting that they had received the maps just the day before.
“Our staff did gather a substantial amount of information for each focus area examined at (Thursday’s) AZAC meeting. Because it took so long, our staff (Thursday) asked the committee for more lead time in the future to compile information about possible rezoning areas,” Searer wrote in an email. “We recognize it is vital to give both the committee and the community ample time to review all possible focus areas.”
But if I could get the pdf files emailed to me Wednesday, why didn’t the school district post the maps on its websites that same afternoon, so everyone affected could have a chance to see the maps without having to ask for them? (Keeping in mind the AZAC website wasn’t working at that time, of course.)
It gets worse. The commission’s next meeting is Tuesday morning, the day after the Veterans Day holiday. On the agenda: rezoning scenarios for Alamo, Fine, Frias, Ries and Steele elementary schools and Canarelli, Faiss, Guinn, Sawyer and Tarkanian middle schools in the southwest valley. Those maps won’t be available to the public or the commission before the meeting, so if you live in areas currently zoned for those schools, you’ll have to make your way to the school district offices at 2832 E. Flamingo Road at 9:30 a.m. to find out where the new lines might be drawn.
On Friday, the school district posted this message to the commission’s now-functional website: “Reference materials for the November 12 AZAC meeting will not be available to the committee or public prior to the meeting. This is due to the shortened business week in observance of the Veterans Day holiday and the substantial amount of information for each focus area requested.”
Ironically, AZAC meeting agendas include the statement: “The Attendance Zone Advisory Commission recognizes that its deliberative process benefits greatly from public input and perspective.”
Keeping information from the public ensures there is no deliberative process. Indeed, at Thursday’s meeting, the commission moved forward with a rezoning scenario for Arbor View and Shadow Ridge high schools that shifts hundreds of students. Not a single person provided public comment. Preliminary rezoning plans for other schools also have received no public comments.
That’s not a sign that parents don’t care. That’s a sign that they have no idea their kids might be shipped to different schools next year.
If commissioners want constructive feedback and suggestions from the public regarding attendance zones, they’ll give parents plenty of time to look at the maps — and calm down before coming to a public meeting. When parents walk into a meeting not knowing whether their zones will be left alone or moved, but finds out the moment a map is projected on a screen, they’re far more likely to get upset. And how can the commission credibly move forward with any scenario that affects thousands of families just minutes after seeing it?
At Thursday’s meeting, a handful of parents complained about learning just that morning that their children might be shipped to a different school next year. One mother said her family had bought a house this year based on the schools it was zoned for, only to find out Thursday that her children might be moved to an attendance zone they had specifically avoided.
The good news in this process: Parents still have time to provide rezoning feedback, even if they haven’t seen their schools’ maps yet. But the window is short. Public meetings and discussions will run through January, at which time the commission will unveil much firmer rezoning proposals. The commission will make recommendations to Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky Feb. 15, and they have until the first week of March to forward a plan to the School Board. That’s less than four months from now.
Helpful hint to the school district: Put the maps the public has paid for on the website the public has paid for. And as far in advance as possible.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.