Nation-leading growth shaped this valley's identity for decades. The Clark County School District, more than any other local institution, was defined by this constant expansion.
Of course, everything has changed over the past two years. New school construction and teacher hiring binges have been replaced with budget cuts. A devastating recession and double-digit unemployment have forced the school district to shake the mind-set that it must keep preparing for thousands of new students every summer.
The Clark County School Board last year removed a $7 billion bond issue from the general election ballot. Since that board action, the school district's crystal ball is much clearer -- and bleaker. This fall, for the first time in a quarter-century, the school district's enrollment decreased. With property tax revenue projected to drop off the same cliff from which sales and gaming collections have already fallen, school district officials last week announced they couldn't forsee building any new schools for at least three to five years.
It's a prudent course to follow. Everything has changed.
Except the district's ravenous appetite for tax revenue.
District officials say that although no new campuses will be needed in the immediate future, existing schools will have capital needs of $4.9 billion over the next 10 years for maintenance, technology, equipment and improvements. The School Board will decide early next year whether to place a new bond program on the 2010 ballot to fund that wish list.
To put such an outlay in perspective, the 10-year, $4.9 billion bond program approved by voters in 1998 built more than 100 schools, including reconstructions of older campuses. And now the district wants the taxpaying public to believe that it needs another $4.9 billion to make it through the next decade even though it might not build a single new school?
For goodness sakes, the school district has only about 340 campuses. That's more than $14 million per school. If you exclude the 100 schools built in the past decade, the district is asking for more than $20 million for every school built before 1998.
What kind of improvements are we taking about? Because of this recession, the price of construction materials and labor has plunged. The district could raze and rebuild almost every elementary and middle school -- twice -- for that kind of money.
Over the years, the school district has spent untold sums on classroom technology that teachers have no interest in using and that, when used, do nothing to improve student achievement. Loading classrooms with laptops, Wi-Fi, flat screens and full-color digital projectors won't help kids work through basic division or spelling any more than a marker board.
The School Board should demand specifics on every dollar of this preposterous request so the public can better understand the district's complete disconnection from reality. Then the board should make sure the proposal never again sees the light of day, let alone a single ballot.