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EDITORIAL: Allow families to escape the CCSD chaos

Updated July 27, 2019 - 9:24 pm

The deans fired by Superintendent Jesus Jara will now be rehired.

On Wednesday, Mr. Jara, who runs the Clark County School District, held a news conference at which he sheepishly reversed himself on eliminating dean positions at middle and high schools. Mr. Jara had announced several weeks ago that he was cutting the entry-level administrator positions to help fund teacher raises.

The administrators union sued, alleging that Mr. Jara sought board approval for the decision in a secret meeting. A District Court judge granted a preliminary injunction halting the move. The administrators union also took the unprecedented step of holding a “no confidence” vote — which passed unanimously — regarding the superintendent. Community backlash was fierce. Parents told Mr. Jara and the School Board that deans were vital to campus safety.

Mr. Jara’s announcement may have doused one fire, but the situation in the district is hardly stable. He directed middle and high schools to reopen their budgets and cut $98 per student. That adds up. High schools such as Green Valley and Palo Verde each will have to cut around $300,000.

Remember: The school district is receiving $154 million more this year than last. But it has pledged to give employees a 5 percent raise, which is driving up costs.

The pay raise proposal originated with Gov. Steve Sisolak, who promised the increase but failed to provide enough funding in his budget to pay for it. Mr. Jara should have told Gov. Sisolak that the district wasn’t going to compromise its budget to solve the governor’s political headaches.

Further complicating matters is the Clark County Education Association. The union endorsed and heavily backed Gov. Sisolak, believing he would funnel oodles of money into education. Union officials are now threatening an illegal strike after learning that the governor’s budget failed to fully deliver on his teacher pay raise vow.

“If there is one cut to any position, any classroom that is increased in any size whatsoever, any positions that are eliminated, that will trigger a strike,” CCEA executive director John Vellardita said after Mr. Jara’s announcement.

It’s hard to see how schools can make these reductions without ramifications for class sizes or staffing. School supply budgets are only so big. Perhaps schools will now require students to bring their own toilet paper and mow the grass on their lunch hour.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2015, then-Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law the largest tax increase in Nevada history, specifically to fund education. Gov. Sandoval allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for new programs, including money for English language learners and students in poverty. In his State of the State address, he promised his plan would “transform Nevada for its next 50 years of success.” In 2016, the school district handed out teacher raises worth $136 million over two years. This included boosting starting teacher pay by 18 percent.

Then, in 2019, the teacher union’s preferred candidate became governor, and Democrats dominated both houses of the Legislature. The education establishment won victory after victory. Yet here we are again with a school district unable to control its expenses despite substantial budget increases courtesy of Nevada taxpayers.

Meanwhile, student achievement remains an embarrassment, with just 29 percent of district fourth-graders deemed reading proficient in 2017. Boosting starting teacher pay 18 percent in one year hasn’t solved the teacher shortage, but it continues to strain school budgets. Tens of millions of dollars have gone to full-day kindergarten, which is ineffective in boosting long-term student achievement. Required contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System continue to rise, diverting money away from both teachers and the district.

Self-styled education advocates will continue to bang away at miserly state taxpayers for refusing to “adequately” fund education. But the pathologies crippling the Clark County School District more accurately reflect the predictable sclerosis of a state-run monopoly rather than a lack of financial resources.

If a large corporation, such as General Motors, isn’t producing a quality product at an acceptable price, the consumers don’t fret about the causes. They go buy a Ford. This provides a powerful incentive for GM to either improve or see its fortunes tumble. Either way, car buyers get the product they need.

Subjecting the school district to competitive forces by empowering parents with more education options for their children would act as a forceful stimulus for improvement and accountability. This is happening to some degree with the explosion of charter schools. A universal program of school choice, such as the revival of Education Savings Accounts, would further increase alternatives for every parent and child.

The school district’s budget chaos has become an annual event despite flat enrollment and ever-increasing school budgets. But until there are incentives for the education establishment to improve, the dismal status quo will prevail. Market forces can provide those incentives. Nevada’s parents and students will benefit from the freedom to find education alternatives that suit their needs — and so will the Clark County School District.

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