Backers lobby for campus

Just a few days after Clark County School District officials proposed a $249 million bond measure for school improvements, West Las Vegas residents said they hope some of that money will be spent in their inner-city neighborhood.

District Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler and other district officials have declined to say what the bond money would be used for, except that the “primary focus” will be to improve the condition of facilities and address “any educational equity issues.”

But one West Las Vegas community leader believes her neighborhood is about to get its “piece of the pie,” about $20 million for permanent classrooms at West Prep Academy.

Marzette Lewis of WAAK-UP, a community organization in West Las Vegas, is encouraging parents to come out in full force to an Aug. 5 School Board meeting to make sure it does “the right thing: ‘Build the school you promised.'”

West Las Vegas is the area generally bordered by Carey Avenue on the north, Bonanza Road on the south, Interstate 15 on the east and Rancho Drive on the west.

Residents in West Las Vegas said they have been waiting three years for new additions to West Prep Academy, which was converted from a middle school to a K-12 campus. West Prep, near the intersection of Martin Luther King and Lake Mead boulevards, has 28 portables for 56 classrooms, which are used for the elementary grades.

At many School Board meetings this summer, community activists have complained about the disparity of mostly black and Hispanic children going to school in portables while the district has committed to building schools in newer suburban neighborhoods.

But School Board President Terri Janison said the board is not reacting to political pressure. Instead, she said the new bonds are being pursued to take advantage of federal stimulus incentives. The board gave Weiler the authority to go before the Clark County Debt Management Commission in August so a federal stimulus deadline could be met.

Janison said the School Board does not make decisions based “on three to five people” making demands at a meeting.

She said the district has worked hard to approve new capital projects through a nonpolitical process. Emergencies, such as replacing a broken air conditioning system, always get priority, for example, she added.

Janison said she did not think West Prep is on the last version of the district’s “approved list” of projects waiting to be funded. “But that’s not to say that things can’t change,” she said.

Financially, the nation’s fifth-largest school district is in a limbo.

The last bonds from its 1998 program have been sold. The 1998 program generated more than $4 billion for capital expenses and built 101 new schools.

Before the district could proceed with a similar property tax-based bond program, it would need voter approval to use revenue from property taxes to help pay back the debt.

Weiler has proposed an “interim” bond program that would be financed through continuing revenues from real estate transfer taxes and room taxes, which don’t require voter approval.

The district also would be taking advantage of a federal stimulus incentive for interest-free bonds with the federal government giving tax credits in lieu of the interest. It would save millions of dollars as a result, Weiler said.

The interim bonds would still need approval from the 11-member Clark County Debt Management Commission, which is composed of city and county-elected officials, including Janison.

Janison could vote on the school bond proposal without it being considered a conflict because she would be acting in her “official capacity” and not in her personal interest, said Mark Wood, the attorney for the commission.

After a go-ahead from the commission, the bonds would still have to be approved by the school district’s Bond Oversight Committee and School Board sometime this fall before they could be sold beginning in December.

Because the district has to follow a protocol, officials can’t get ahead of themselves and say how the money would be spent. “It’s just too early to say,” said Michael Rodriguez, a district spokesman.

Officials are reviewing and updating a list of unfinished projects dating from 2007, an inventory that adds up to $249 million, Rodriguez said.

While new bond revenues would be kept in a separate fund for accounting purposes, the district would be working from a prioritized list of leftover projects from the 1998 program.

Those include “modernization, renovation and potentially new schools, although I don’t foresee the need for new schools at this time” because of slowed growth, Weiler said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@ reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.

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