Dealing with crowded schools: A growing problem for Clark County

At least three and possibly as many as 11 elementary schools in the southwest valley will move to year-round schedules this fall to alleviate overcrowding so severe that as many as 20 portable classrooms are now needed at some campuses.

Forbuss, Reedom and Wright elementaries are first in line. Those three schools meet all three of the school district’s triggers for year-round schedules: their enrollment is at least 125 percent of capacity; they’re each using more than eight portable classrooms; and they’ve experienced three-year average enrollment growth of at least 5 percent.

School Board trustees reportedly now favor year-round calendars at those schools. Whether year-round schedules will follow at Alamo, Batterman, Fine, Frias, Ries, Steele, Stuckey and Tanaka elementaries has yet to be determined.

The School Board will also consider Wednesday whether to rezone attendance boundaries in the area, where eight schools are now at 111 to 151 percent of design capacity.

One problem with going year-round at only a small number of campuses, of course, is that families at those schools may transfer their kids to nine-month campuses, shifting the problem in a way that resembles the squeezing of a balloon.

Since last fall 1,138 new students have entered the district, and an additional 1,800 are expected in the southwest next year because of residential development, says Rick Baldwin, the district’s director of demographics and zoning.

Voters were warned there would be unhappy consequences if they rejected Clark County Question 2, a property tax increase to fund urgently needed school construction. But the public voted no last fall — overwhelmingly — and families in the fast-growing southwest valley are first in line for sacrifice.

Given the district’s large population of English Language Learners, many voters have wondered aloud if overcrowding couldn’t be rectified by identifying children whose families are in the country illegally and deporting them. But it’s evident there’s currently no political will in Washington to even begin that process.

In the meantime, the region’s elementary schools are far over capacity, and there’s no money to build new schools.

The Legislature could help by getting rid of the absurdly named “prevailing wage” law, which adds millions of dollars to the cost of new schools and public works projects by requiring pay rates far above those that actually prevail in the private sector — or even by coming up with emergency one-shot money to build at least one new school in the southwest valley.

For now, everyone will have to make do with a bad situation imposed by voters who — well-timed or not — finally decided last year that when it comes to government spending, enough is enough.