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CCSD overhaul plan gets first of three critical votes

A controversial plan to overhaul the Clark County School District cleared one of three critical votes late Tuesday as a bipartisan group of state lawmakers granted their unanimous approval to a final set of regulations needed to set the plan in motion.

By a 9-0 vote, a legislative advisory committee charged with developing a plan to reorganize the nation’s fifth-largest school system approved the rules after a nearly 12-hour hearing.

The proposal now heads to the State Board of Education and 12-member Legislative Commission for two additional rounds of approval next month. Assuming both bodies endorse the plan, its implementation rests on the shoulders of Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, who by August 2017 must dismantle his central administration to give principals more control over budget, instruction and staffing decisions at every school.

“The success of our students depends on us coming together with whatever comes out of this process,” Skorkowsky said after the marathon meeting.

“We have to ensure that each student is provided with the best possible education,” he added.

During an initial public comment period, parents, political leaders and school employees both praised and vilified a revised set of regulations needed to implement the top-to-bottom reorganization of the school system.

Implementation must occur by the start of the 2017-18 school year, according to the rules approved Tuesday night.

“We are so excited to be breaking free from being dead last in education,” said Annette Dawson Owens of the education reform group Break Free CCSD.

“Some believe this reorganization won’t change anything, so let’s prove them wrong,” she told the advisory committee.

State Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, noted the State Board of Education may make changes to the regulation at its Sept. 1 meeting. He expects the Legislative Commission to vote on whatever the board approves later in the month.

Even if the plan clears that hurdle, lawmakers stressed they will continue to identify and address issues that come up as the district implements the reorganization.

“You don’t have to solve all problems with one piece of legislation,” said state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas.Flow of Clark County School District funding  (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Following a series of sometimes heated town hall meetings, Roberson updated the final set of regulations with last-minute compromises forged to build stronger support for the plan.

The state last April hired Michael Strembitsky, a longtime Canadian educator, to develop the reorganization plan, which calls for more autonomy at the campus level. In return, schools are held to a greater level of accountability.

Critics of the plan include the Clark County School Board, minority rights activists and school support staff.

Many community members who testified Tuesday urged lawmakers to delay the reorganization. They also asked for a boost in funding for the neediest students and the end to policies that drive more experienced teachers and state resources to schools in affluent, largely white neighborhoods.

“You’re taking from Pablo to educate Paul,” said Jose Solorio, a former school board member.

Last week, three members of the State Board of Education shared their concern with how the regulations could impact the equitable distribution of teachers across Clark County. However, they remain optimistic about the overall goal of the reorganization to boost student achievement and increase local control of neighborhood schools.

The plan’s supporters argue it will allow principals, working with parents, teachers and school staff, to better meet the needs of their unique student populations.

Support staff workers, however, believe the regulations will empower principals to outsource their jobs or harass employees who question their decisions, including hiring and firing.

“Principals should not be responsible for making that decision,” said Irlean Daiseley, a campus security worker who will start the upcoming school year at Coronado High. “Some of them have a personality issue with employees.”

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find @nealtmorton on Twitter.

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