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Rural Clark County schools not happy with money distribution

The Clark County School District may be violating the law that forced its reorganization by not adequately funding rural schools, officials say.

Officials at some of the county’s rural schools, in Mesquite and the Moapa Valley, are taking their complaints to the state, asking Superintendent Steve Canavero to force Clark County to comply with the law.

“It’s both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law that the rural schools get the same amount of funding,” said Bob Sweetin, the city attorney in Mesquite. “We are at the point (where) we’ve got no other remedy.”

Sweetin was speaking about funding issues at Virgin Valley Elementary School in Mesquite, which he said has been shorted by approximately $117,000 this year. But other schools, including Lyon Middle School and Moapa Valley High School, both in Overton, say they are being harmed as well, to the tune of about $160,000 and $105,000, respectively.

The problem, representatives of the schools say, is that the county school district apparently is not following a provision in the reorganization law that says rural schools should not be funded at lower levels proportionally than they received in previous years.

A flashpoint

“It has reached a flashpoint now where we can’t compensate. That’s why everybody’s digging in their heels,” said Lindsey Dalley, a nonvoting community member of the school organizational team at Lyon. “If you want a school to give an education and you want an equitable education in the rural communities, then we’re done, we’re at the wall. We’re now to the point where we have no choice but to cut.”

Virgin Valley started the year short a kindergarten teacher because of the reduced funding from the school district, meaning there could be up to 40 students in its remaining classes. Lyon Middle School had to cut an art program and a credit-retrieval program intended to help students who are falling behind. Moapa Valley High School said it is losing its dean of students because of funding cuts.

At a Mesquite City Council meeting Tuesday, Jeff Hybarger, an associate superintendent for the district, said Virgin Valley’s problem could be fixed if enrollment climbs sufficiently by Sept. 8. On that day, the number of students enrolled will be counted and the school could be allocated another teacher.

When questioned, Hybarger said he couldn’t say how the district was interpreting the law.

“It’s probably imprudent of me to make that kind of comment at this point. That’d be the superintendent and district attorneys that would make that,” he said.

In the law

Clark County Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky has said some rural schools are suffering now because in previous years they had been given “gifts” by the district, extra teaching positions that weren’t justified by enrollment.

Under the reorganization, he says, the district can no longer support the gifts because the district’s money has been allocated to different schools. Giving “gifts” now would mean taking money from another school, he said.

In a statement Friday, district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said officials are following the funding formula set out in the district’s strategic budget guidebook.

“Rural teaching positions are based on projected student enrollment in the spring and actual student enrollment in the fall,” she said. “Small rural schools are then provided small-school allocations to address the need for curriculum and credits for students.”

But state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, one of the CCSD reorganization legislation’s principal authors, said the rural schools provision was added to protect them from receiving less funding.

“We are going to continue to follow up on that issue and demand answers,” he said. “We’re not talking about a boost. We’re talking about making sure they don’t get harmed based on this reorganization.”

The provision deals with rural and specialty schools, such as magnet or technical schools, saying they should not receive lesser amounts proportionately than they received before the reorganization. In other words, the district can’t just take a flat amount from every school, since that would have a bigger effect on the rural schools.

But Larry Moses, a nonvoting community member of the Moapa Valley High School organizational team, says the district hasn’t provided the information needed to tell whether it is complying.

“They’ve withheld that information,” he said. “If it’s not a proportional cut, then they have violated the law.”

Next steps

Canavero, as the head of the state’s Department of Education, has the authority to enforce the reorganization under the law, which is why rural schools are asking him to intervene. The department is taking the issue seriously and is analyzing what the next steps may be, spokesman Greg Bortolin said.

To further complicate matters, the district is working to close a growing budget deficit. On Thursday, the school board approved $43 million in cuts, which includes a request that schools cut $17.4 million collectively from the strategic budgets.

At the central level, $14 million will be cut from direct services to schools and $11.8 million will be cut from the administrative offices.

It was unclear as of Friday how the approved cuts would affect schools and staffing plans.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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