Even as they were cutting the budget to erase a $68 million deficit, Clark County School District officials scraped together money for a new position focused on keeping students – and revenue – from leaving the district in favor of charter schools.
About $117,000 was cobbled together for the new post by making cuts from the deputy superintendent’s office budget, Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky told trustees last week when they approved the district’s $2.4 billion operating budget for the fiscal 2019 year.
No one has yet been named to the new marketing job, but when it’s filled that person will be charged with slowing the exodus of students by highlighting positive work happening in public schools.
When a child leaves the school district for a charter school, the state per-pupil funding and some local revenues that would have gone to Clark County departs as well. District officials and some trustees have grown increasingly worried about the lost funding and see the new position as a way to at least lessen the bleeding.
“This is a position that is expected to raise money for the district by bringing children back in. It will pay for itself,” Trustee Carolyn Edwards said Monday. “In essence, it’s not a cut, it’s actually an increase to the budget.”
District officials did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday or Friday.
Marketing public schools
The new employee will help targeted schools that are losing a large number of students to charters develop and implement a marketing plan to highlight programs or opportunities in the school. School staff will be responsible for the execution of the plan, which may include door-to-door campaigns or flyers, which are common ways that new charters advertise to families.
Jana Wilcox Lavin, executive director of nonprofit Opportunity 180, said all schools should be engaging families about their vision. Opportunity 180 advocates for high-quality schools in the country, and as part of that, works to recruit charter schools to Nevada.
“My hope would be that the reason for making this decision is more about making sure families are picking the right school for their kid by having all the information rather than making it strictly about finances,” she said.
But some in the local charter community took the position as an affront.
“I find it unfortunate that the leaders of the largest school district in the state would spend public funds to attack one form of delivering public education in favor of another. Those dollars should be spent on teachers and students,” said Jason Guinasso, chairman of the Nevada State Public Charter Authority, which approves new charter schools.
Pat Hickey, executive director of the Charter School Association of Nevada, also said the new position was a waste of taxpayer money.
Not best use of funds, critic says
“Instead of CCSD hiring a marketer to steer students away from public charter schools, why doesn’t the district hire more teachers with that money to reduce overcrowding in Las Vegas classrooms, which charters are helping with. Public charter schools, like district magnet schools, are both examples that district schools can learn from in order to innovate,” he said.
Trustee Kevin Child questioned the cost of the position, saying he thought the job could be done at a much lesser price, around $30,000 a year.
Trustee Chris Garvey was generally supportive of the position, saying she’s not a fan of charter schools. But she questioned whether the funding for the position should come from a central budget or from the budgets of the schools that the person will be working with.
The district’s budget, with the position included, passed with a 5-2 vote from trustees. Trustees Linda Cavazos and Child voted against the budget.
Charter school enrollment is growing at a faster rate than the state or Clark County public schools, even though charter school students still account for a small percentage of the total. The Nevada State Public Charter Authority can’t easily tell how many students from Clark County are enrolling in charter schools, since some of the schools accept students across county borders.
Here’s a look at the last five years of charter school enrollment in Nevada: