The new school year brings all-too-familiar challenges.
The Clark County School District will be starting school Monday with a shortage of about 1,000 teachers, despite rehiring 419 who were laid off in June.
The average class size in high school, middle school and some elementary school grades will jump to 35 students, up from 32 last year.
Regardless, Superintendent Dwight Jones and new Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky expect improvements in state standardized test scores and the district's graduation rate, which rose to an estimated 65 percent from 59 percent last year. The district said it could not provide a finalized figure but that it will be released by the state in the coming months.
"The challenge of trying to do more with less is the biggest issue we're facing," Skorkowsky said. "We're going to be working together (with teachers) to make sure we help every student in every classroom without exceptions and without excuses."
As of press time, the district was still in talks with the teachers union, the Clark County Education Association, over the 2012-13 contract. The district wants to freeze pay increases that teachers traditionally receive because of seniority and other factors. An arbitrator ruled in May for the teachers, allowing the contracted 2011-12 pay increases to stand. The salary increases' combined cost to the district would be about $63 million for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, which accounts for the 1,000 cut positions. Jones said the district planned for the worst-case scenario after the May ruling, but if the union agrees not to take raises this school year, he could add teachers back into classrooms and lower class sizes.
Jones said he is hopeful the two sides will have reached an agreement before school starts. He also said the district cannot be accused of "bluffing" this time because of the events of the past few months: teachers received pay increases, positions were eliminated and class sizes jumped.
"I guess I could have class sizes of 100 and pay (the raises)," Jones said. "At some point, the community has to say when enough is enough.
"... I think everybody would say there are not enough resources. I think even the (CCEA) would say that."
Earlier this month the district rehired teachers it had laid off in June. It said more teachers retired or left the district than anticipated, so those vacancies were filled.
"There has been an effort to say it's us versus them," Jones said of the teachers. "That couldn't be further from the truth. I've been a teacher myself. I value that role."
Some schools are expected to face class sizes of 40, 50 or even 60 students in certain popular courses. Those numbers are unlikely to subside unless the Nevada Legislature adds funds to its education budget, which Jones does not expect.
And although it is unlikely to happen this year, the district is preparing in case things get worse.
To alleviate overcrowding, Jones said the district is considering busing students to underpopulated schools in other parts of the valley and changing some schools to year-round schedules. He added he does not want to resort to those solutions, and the community does not support them, either.
Benchmarks that would trigger these actions are being discussed with the Board of Trustees, Jones said.
In the meantime, maybe technology can help.
The district wants to increase enrollment in its full-time online high school and part-time, or blended, learning. Skorkowsky said the district's goal is to have 100,000 students ---- about one-third of the district ---- enrolled in online classes, though a timeline for accomplishing that has not been established.
The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday at the Edward A. Greer Education Center, 2832 E. Flamingo Road. For more information, visit ccsd.net.
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 224-5524.