Crowding at 70 elementary schools should trigger a switch from nine-month to year-round schedules in 2012-13 under the Clark County School District's rules.
But that's not going to happen.
The School Board unanimously decided Wednesday to follow Superintendent Dwight Jones' recommendation to ignore the trigger for another year.
The district, foreseeing a budget cut, converted its 75 year-round schools to nine-month calendars in 2011-12 to save $21 million annually. That equates to $280,000 saved per school, which would have been undone had board members followed policy.
The district's current situation isn't stable enough for big changes, which could be costly and short-lived because of "constant fluctuations," Jones said.
"It's hard to give answers because there are so many variables right now," he told board members.
The variables revolve around the poor economy, forcing many district families to drift between homes or move in with other families. Student population is shifting all over the Las Vegas Valley at historic rates, said Rick Baldwin, director of demographics and zoning for the district.
While many elementary schools are teaching more students than ever, about a quarter of Clark County's 357 schools, mostly middle schools and high schools, have empty desks this school year, about 18,700 seats in all. In addition to families in flux, Baldwin said, enrollment has been trending downward since 2008-09. Some families have left, and the number of Clark County births has declined since the peak of 30,600 newborns in 2007-08 to 26,900 last school year.
But the fact is a third of elementary schools are over capacity.
And there is a reason that district policy mandates a switch to year-round instruction once a school exceeds its capacity by at least 14 percent. It alleviates the pressure. Year-round calendars enable the typical 725-seat elementary school to teach 920 students because of rotating cycles, Baldwin said.
And some elementary schools now exceed their capacities by 50 percent or more.
What is the alternative?
Portable classrooms. The district already is using 1,639 of them on campuses, mostly elementary schools. That will have to do because money isn't available to build new facilities, board members agreed.
The addition of portables doesn't increase a school's official capacity. If taken into account, portables give all schools "ample seating" for a ratio of 22 students per teacher, said Baldwin.
But portables aren't counted for a reason. They don't expand other essentials, such as cafeteria space, bathrooms or parking, and that creates challenges with student supervision at lunch and recess.
For that reason, Jones vowed, support would be given in the way of more staff for student supervision at crowded schools.
Portables also will be inspected once a year, which has never been done before. Some portables have been around for 20 years, said Baldwin, adding that 48 portables have been condemned in the district's first-ever check.
"When do we say, 'Portables aren't good enough?' " said board member Chris Garvey, who expressed concerns about schools turning into "shantytowns."
A cap must be put in place, board President Carolyn Edwards said. At some point, a crowded school's fifth-graders could be moved into a nearby middle school with available classrooms.
But there is another alternative: rezoning to move students from the packed schools to empty schools.
Jones recommended against that.
"It's a tremendous undertaking to uproot students, especially at the high school level," he said.
Board member Deanna Wright contended it would be for the better. Some high schools have 3,000 students who can barely fit through the hallways during passing periods.
"It concerns me greatly," she said.
The rest of the board agreed and instructed that rezoning be planned to balance students between full and empty schools.
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.