Four former Nevada first ladies vowed Thursday to lend their fundraising prowess to a campaign to win voter support for increasing property taxes to finance a $5.3 billion bond for public school renovations over 10 years - if the Clark County School Board goes for it.
The first ladies raised an undisclosed amount in donations to pay for a survey of 400 voters and revealed the findings at Thursday's board meeting. About 55 percent of the small sampling would support a bond for the district, the poll found.
"We are ready to roll up our sleeves," said former Nevada first lady Sandy Miller, speaking for herself and first ladies Bonnie Bryan, Dawn Gibbons and Dema Guinn.
But the School Board delayed the decision to approve a bond, which staff has said would increase the district's share of the property tax rate from 55 cents to 77 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The increase translates to about $74 a year for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000. Before pursuing a bond for the November ballot, board members wanted more details of the $5.3 billion proposal to fund building and maintenance needs.
"I don't see how we can do nothing," senior board member Carolyn Edwards said. "But to sell this, we need to be pretty clear about what we're doing with this money."
Superintendent Dwight Jones and district staff haven't provided much detail on projects that would be funded by the bond. Nothing new has been revealed since the Feb. 1 meeting on the bond.
Staff has said about $216 million would go to build nine new schools to alleviate the reliance on portable classrooms for 7,300 students.
Another $3.4 billion would be used for the following:
■ Renovate aging schools.
■ Replace deteriorating electrical, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
■ Replace nine other schools averaging a half-century of use.
About $1.6 billion would be for technology and equipment.
But where the new schools will go, which schools will be replaced and which aging schools will get multimillion-dollar overhauls, Edwards said, need to be spelled out. The bond is more likely to pass if parents know how students will benefit, but Edwards and the board received no answers.
Board member John Cole also asked for the amount needed for schools to "get by" or the bare-bones facility needs.
The answers are supposed to come when the board reconvenes at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Jones said he might not have answers because the issues are complex.
Edwards emphasized the urgency of obtaining details because the School Board must decide in mid-May whether to pursue the bond if ballot language is to be submitted to Clark County before the deadline in the third week of July.
For the previous bond in 1998, the answers were a lot easier to nail down and the bond simpler to sell in a booming Las Vegas Valley that needed new schools.
Four percent of the proposed bond would go toward nine new schools. The 1998 bond generated $4.9 billion over 12 years to build 112 schools.
"We were opening one school a month, spending $1 million a day. It was crazy," said David Pierce in a Wednesday interview. He has been managing the district's bond-funded school construction projects for a decade.
Voter support for construction of new schools was strong in times of growth. But schools now need the kind of work that doesn't sell itself, he said.
Pierce stood on Wynn Elementary's roof Wednesday, pointing to nine new air conditioners the size of short buses. They replaced failing units at the school, near Jones Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.
In Las Vegas, schools without air conditioning have to be closed on hot days and students sent home for safety reasons, which is a growing concern, he said. It's a problem at many aging schools. Modernizing Wynn's climate system cost $4 million and is just being finished.
Teachers have asked where the money went, Pierce said.
"It went behind the walls and above the ceiling, where you can't see it," he said, which is the problem with convincing voters for a bond for renovations. "But come the heat, they'll see."
Wynn will be one of the last schools to undergo a major overhaul unless another bond is passed, but many more are waiting in line, Pierce said.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.