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County commission cautiously open to working with school district

The Clark County Commission on Thursday signaled a cautious willingness to partner with the Clark County School District on education initiatives that would be funded through a potential quarter-percent sales tax, but stressed the need for accountability, information and easier public access to school grounds.

Both boards appeared to agree on severe educational needs within Clark County, which a new state law allows counties to pay for through a new tax.

The issue: how to address these problems in a fiscally responsible way.

The law passed this past legislative session allows the commission to raise the tax to pay for one of seven programs. Four of those address educational needs: truancy, adult education, early childhood education, and the retention and recruitment of teachers.

The district and state also show a need for preschool expansion, serving just under 10,000 students with a total need to serve roughly 28,000, Superintendent Jesus Jara said. The district struggles with keeping truant students in school. And there’s an ongoing teacher shortage — the district even recently launched a new initiative to pay a$10,000 bonus for teachers in eight struggling middle schools.

But county commissioners, who ultimately decide whether to tax constituents to foot the bill for such programs, were not shy about pinpointing dissatisfaction with the district and demanding accountability.

Commissioners first sought a solution for making school grounds more accessible for public use, a problem that has frustrated the commission for some time as community groups wishing to use school grounds have been turned away.

While the district cited potential legal issues for 110 schools on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick and others stressed a need to come up with a solution with the federal government.

“What it looks like for me is that we’re looking for reasons not to share the schools, and I’ve got to believe that that’s not really what the trustees want — or anybody else,” Kirkpatrick said.

Commissioner Michael Naft noted the varying answers the commission gets from different parties within the district about the issue —administrators give one answer, while the schools themselves give another. The problem, he said, seems to be the culture within the district.

“Once we get past the paperwork problem, how do we solve the culture problem with the district?” he asked.

School Board trustees acknowledged the need for accountability and collaboration before presenting their own suggestions for each of the four issues.

A new 0.25 percent sales tax would provide roughly $108 million in revenue — money that commissioners were careful not to commit to on Thursday as they await more information.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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