Plan for schools unveiled

Clark County School District staff unveiled to the School Board Monday a school construction proposal that, if approved by voters in November 2008, would be the largest in state history in dollars generated.

The $9.5 billion, 10-year plan is to build 73 new schools. The district is still building schools under a 10-year bond measure passed in 1998 for $3.5 billion.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes said the proposal would be an extension of the 1998 bond measure so it would not increase the portion of the property tax rate that goes to schools.

"This represents the continued growth that is on the horizon" for Southern Nevada, Rulffes said. "It also represents a program that could be sustained without a tax increase."

The nation’s fifth-largest school system has nearly 309,000 students. District officials predict the enrollment will grow to 473,000 students by 2018.

The School Board did not make a decision Monday on whether to accept the proposal its staff recommended. The board is expected to finalize in January the wording for the ballot question.

Nevada Superintendent Keith Rheault said a school construction program of more than $9 billion "would definitely be the biggest in Nevada history."

The district’s current bond program is funded through three measures. One, a property tax measure, sets the district’s share of that tax rate at 0.5534 cents per $100 of assessed property value through 2008. As the district pays off its old debt, the measure allows the district to continue collecting the same amount of revenue for new construction.

Before the legislation was approved in 1997, the district had been going to voters for property tax increases to build new schools.

Of the district’s $9.5 billion proposal, $7 billion is expected to be supported through property taxes, while the additional $2.5 billion will come from a hotel room tax and the real estate transfer tax.

The hotel and real estate transfer measures were approved by the Legislature in 1997. The district receives 60 cents per $500 of the sales price in each real estate transaction, and 1 5/8 percent of hotel room revenues in Clark County.

Because of factors such as increased property values, more tourists than expected visiting the Las Vegas Valley and construction of new hotels, the district’s 1998 construction program has grown to $4.9 billion from its original $3.5 billion. When the final schools are constructed in August 2010 from the program launched in 1998, 101 new schools and 11 replacement schools will have been built, officials say. The district had originally expected to build 88 new schools under that program.

A major difference between the 1998 bond program and the 2008 proposal is the amount of money that would be spent to renovate or replace existing schools. Although district officials have not specified how many schools could be replaced or renovated, $4.375 billion of the $9.5 billion would be allocated for those purposes. Under the district’s 1998 program, $366 million of the $4.9 billion was allocated to replace existing schools, said Jeff Weiler, the district’s chief financial officer.

Weiler said the district’s record bond proposal amount will be needed to construct schools through 2018 because property and construction costs have risen dramatically in the past decade.

In 1998, Weiler said, the district paid on average $60,000 per acre on which to build schools.

Weiler said the district now pays in excess of $500,000 per acre. He added that in 1998 the district paid contractors about $200 per square foot to build a new school; the cost is now $350 per square foot.

Trustee Sheila Moulton said the district’s $9.5 billion proposal is "staggering," but a necessity to keep up with the district’s growth.

Moulton said she has not made any final decisions on whether to accept the proposal, but she likes that the proposal stresses rebuilding and renovating existing schools.

"We need to make sure there is equity between the new schools and the old schools," she said.

Moulton said if the voters don’t approve a proposal to construct new schools next November, the consequences would be severe.

"There’s no doubt in my mind we would see double sessions," she said.

Double sessions would consist of the district’s most populated schools reducing the duration of its days for students to the state minimum of four hours for elementary students and 51/2 hours for high school students, Rheault said.

Most of the district’s students attend school for about 6 hours a day. Under double sessions, the most crowded schools would be opened from dawn until dusk. In those schools, a group of students would arrive at the school in the morning and end their days in the early afternoon. Another group of students from the same school would go to school from early afternoon until the evening.

"You (would) have kids who go to school in the dark and come home in the dark," said Joyce Haldeman, the district’s executive director of community and government affairs. "The safety issues are horrendous."

If a proposal to construct new schools isn’t approved by voters in 2008, more elementary schools would probably convert to year-round schedules, district officials have said. A year-round school can serve about 200 more students in a school year than a nine-month school. About 40 percent of the district’s elementary schools are year-round.

On Monday, district officials also unveiled a plan to the School Board that would require more schools be built to enable the district to reduce the maximum enrollments. The 10-year proposal would be for $12.7 billion.

Under that plan, 137 schools would be built. Those schools would be built under the guidelines that elementary, middle and high schools would not exceed enrollments of 300, 600 and 900 students respectively. Elementary, middle and high schools on average now serve 725, 1,700 and 2,700 students respectively.

Rulffes said that proposal was drawn up to satisfy the curiosity of School Board members.

Trustee Terri Janison said the district will face a difficult challenge persuading voters to approve a school-construction program in fast-growing Clark County.

"The numbers speak for themselves, and we will continue to grow," she said. "It will be up to us to get that message out properly."

Contact reporter Antonio Planas at or (702) 799-2922.

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