Mesquite set to sue Clark County School District

The city of Mesquite is poised to sue the Clark County School District, alleging inadequate funding for the city’s rural schools.

City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to sue the district on behalf of Virgin Valley Elementary School and Joseph L. Bowler Elementary School. City attorney Bob Sweetin said he plans to file the complaint by Monday.

In the lawsuit, the city will allege the district is not following the reorganization law, which includes a provision about funding rural schools proportionately as to how they were funded before the reorganization.

“We can’t continue to drag this out for two or three more months while the kids are in school,” Councilman David Ballweg said before the vote Tuesday.

Mesquite is not the only rural area to voice issues with the new funding method but is one that can legally sue the district over the issue because it is an incorporated city. Sweetin said parents in other areas — including Moapa Valley — were interested in joining the lawsuit to represent their schools.

Representatives from Mesquite and Moapa Valley will present their issues to a legislative advisory committee Thursday to put pressure on the district to act.

‘A lot with less’

Preparing for the unexpected was a common thread among Moapa Valley principals during a recent community education advisory board meeting.

Not sure of what would come this year, all four of the principals reported they had set aside some money last year to prepare for this year. But even that has not been enough.

“It was just some pocket change,” Moapa Valley High School principal Hal Mortensen said. “Our programs are suffering.”

Mortensen’s campus, with 521 students, has empty classrooms and unused special programs because he cannot afford to hire staff. Instruments line the wall in an empty band room. Another classroom has been transformed into a conference room.

The former dean’s office sits empty. A paint shop bay, where students could paint cars, is now a storage shed.

It’s similar at Mack Lyon Middle School, where Principal Ken Paul reported the art program was cut because of funding issues. And there is a leak in the roof that is beyond the ability of his custodian to fix. He is waiting for the district to send someone out.

“We’re not taking away from urban challenges, but there are rural challenges, too,” he said.

The area’s elementary schools might be faring a little bit better than the upper schools, partially because they also saved money from the previous year.

Stable enrollment and a teacher resignation the week before school started meant Perkins Elementary School will be able to maintain staff, Principal Holly Lee said.

Grant M. Bowler Elementary School leaders would like to go the way of some urban schools, converting into a STEAM Academy and focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, but the money isn’t there. Through grants and gifts, the school was able to provide tablets for students, Principal Shawna Jessen said.

“We always do more with less,” she said.

State wades in

Before Mesquite authorized the lawsuit, officials reached out to State Superintendent Steve Canavero, who has the authority to enforce the reorganization under the law. On Aug. 31, Canavero wrote a letter to Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky.

“I’m seeking information and extending an opportunity to Clark County School District to explain the budgeting decision before any further action is initiated,” Canavero wrote.

The district was supposed to respond by Sept. 8 and submitted a response Wednesday.

“We are working closely with the state on this issue,” Skorkowsky told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In the response, Skorkowsky said the district’s legal, operational and finance departments have all reviewed the law to help ensure the district is in compliance and took issue with numbers cited by Mesquite as initial preliminary numbers.

State officials confirmed the letter had been received and is under review. Canavero said Tuesday he is not ready to say whether he thinks the district is not following the law.

Before filing the lawsuit, Sweetin said he would send a copy to the district, hoping to give officials one more chance to explain their rationale.

To complicate matters, the district is working to close a budget deficit. The School Board has 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 slashed from direct services to schools, and $11.8 million will be cut from the administrative offices.

More cuts probably will be authorized during Thursday’s board meeting.

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

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