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Clark County School Board members consider beefier budget


More teachers, assistant principals, deans, buses, school support staff and full-day kindergarten classrooms are planned for Clark County public schools in 2014-15 due to an expected $61 million increase in revenue and the elimination of $7 million in contracts with outside parties producing lackluster results.

“It will take years to rebuild after the painful budget cuts of the past few years,” but the Clark County School District is on its way, said Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky before presenting his tentative budget to the School Board on Wednesday.

State funding to local schools is expected to reach a high of $5,544 per student next school year, marking a $21 million increase over 2013-14 when Clark County schools received $87 less per student. But state funding comprises only a third of district revenue.

The majority of school revenue comes from a mix of property and local school support taxes, funding that has plummeted since the recession. These funding sources are beginning to recover, with the district expecting a record enrollment of nearly 318,000 students in 2014-15, up from 314,600 at the beginning of this school year.

The district is expecting $415 million in property taxes, meaning a $20 million increase from this year. Even though that would mean the second consecutive year of more property tax revenue, it comes after four years of decline. In 2009, property taxes brought $600 million to the district, a third more than expected next year.

“We are nowhere near out of the woods,” said Chief Financial Officer Jim McIntosh, emphasizing that the district hasn’t been able to restore class sizes or elective programs to pre-recession levels. “Schools still have their textbooks and instructional supplies budgets cut by 50 percent.”

But schools will likely be getting more in the 2014-15 academic year if the School Board approves Skorkowsky’s budget –which shows $2.2 billion in spending while receiving 3 percent more in revenue – on April 10.

Skorkowsky is calling for 372 more licensed staff members, mostly classroom teachers in regular and special education, and 168 more school support staff members at a $35.5 million cost.

Elementary schools, many of which lost assistant principals during the recession, are getting them back. The district’s 217 elementary schools had 209 assistant principals in 2009. That dropped to 154 assistant principals in recent years and has been gradually restored, said Chief Student Achievement Officer Mike Barton. The addition of 12 positions at a $1 million cost next year will make 194 assistant principals, he said.

“The principal is sometimes the sole administrator,” Barton said. “They need the help.”

The district is also adding 16 deans to middle schools. All middle schools have at least one dean, but those with more than 1,300 students will receive a second dean at a $2.1 million cost.

“I like where we’re going with this, aligning our dollars with our priorities (for student achievement), looking to the future,” said board member Chris Garvey.

It all sounds great, but “the devil is always in the details,” said Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the school administrators union. “We’ve never had a (licensed) teacher in every classroom at opening day of school or any day of school.”

For student achievement to improve, principals need to have fully staffed schools and not rely on hundreds of long-term substitutes across the district, he said.

Some budget changes drew heat. Skorkowsky made it known in February that he’s ending the relationship with Catapult Learning, which recently took over the 13-year contract held by EdisonLearning to run seven Clark County schools.

Skorkowsky revealed Wednesday that he’s also cutting the contract with Ombudsman Educational Services, costing $6.6 million over its three years, to take failing students out of high school and put them in a different classroom environment to catch up on credits. The district has developed internal programs to remediate struggling students or provide the more flexible learning environment that some students need, district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said.

Adrian Bernal, 18, asked the district to keep the program, which has grown over three years to serve 600 students like him. Bernal struggled to earn credits in three high schools before landing in Ombudsman his senior year.

“Thanks to Ombudsman, I made it through high school and walked (in graduation) with my class,” said Bernal, who made up 15 credits through Ombudsman.

Contact Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.

 

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