A rush of 320,000 students will pour into Clark County public schools Monday, putting the packed campuses of last school year in a tighter pinch and pressuring Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky to come up with creative solutions now.
Beginning enrollment for the 2014-15 school year will exceed last year’s ending head count by more than 3,000 students. That is twice the expected increase, making the nation’s fifth-largest school district even larger when it can’t be afforded, Skorkowsky told the Review-Journal’s editorial board on Thursday.
Without the funding to build new schools, he is forced to do one thing.
“Look at any space that’s available,” he said.
The Clark County School District will “utilize new spaces” for school programs, possibly leasing and renovating office spaces, empty grocery stores and more if it’s “economically feasible,” he said. Early childhood programs could be moved to such off-school sites, creating neighborhood preschool centers.
That would free up classrooms in elementary schools for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, he said. It’s possible the district may even split the day for elementary schools, requiring students to be on campus for a half-day and work online from home a half-day.
“I don’t know,” Skorkowsky said. “I’m just throwing out ideas, but we have to start thinking outside the box when it comes to finding space for elementary schools. I don’t have the capacity to build them.”
The Clark County School Board will look at Skorkowsky’s plans during its Sept. 3 meeting. It needs to act quickly for the sake of its 217 elementary schools, which are expected to bear the brunt of this year’s enrollment increase.
Last school year, elementary schools were bursting at the seams and were an average of 16 percent overcapacity. These schools had a total of 20,000 more students than seats last school year, relying on hundreds of portable classrooms, bathrooms and even cafeterias.
The district began last school year with a little more than 315,000 students. Monday’s first day of class will mark enrollment growth of nearly 2 percent over last year. That kind of increase hasn’t been seen since the recession started, according to figures from the district and the Nevada Department of Education.
“More students mean an improving economy,” said Skorkowsky, pointing to the connection between more students and more families moving into Las Vegas because of available jobs. “That’s also a problem.”
Skorkowsky doesn’t have a multibillion-dollar bond at his disposal to acquire land and build new schools, as the district did during 1998-2008’s enrollment boom. During that decade, the district grew from 190,000 students to 309,000 students, averaging annual enrollment growth of 4.8 percent while building 112 schools.
Skorkowsky doesn’t have district funds to build any new schools, so he needs something else.
“And it will happen as soon as we can figure it out,” Skorkowsky said.
Contact Trevon Milliard at email@example.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.