The chronic teacher shortage in the Clark County School District will remain a top priority for officials charged with developing a plan to split the nation’s fifth-largest school system into several local precincts.
With long-term substitutes filling nearly 800 classroom vacancies across the Las Vegas Valley, a committee of state lawmakers, business leaders, education officials and local politicians seemed united and resolved Tuesday to look beyond the reorganization of the district.
A new law requires that restructuring, which could happen within the next three years, to boost student achievement, cut costs and enhance local control. But members of the committee stressed the importance of using their study of a reorganization to identify — and hopefully solve — the deeper challenges that have dragged down student success in Clark County and placed Nevada’s education system among the worst in the nation.
“Until we fix the teacher shortage, then no amount of reorganization is going to fix what ails” the district, said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Henderson.
He chairs a main advisory committee that includes nine state lawmakers who face a Jan. 1, 2017, deadline to develop a plan to carve the district into an unknown number of local precincts before the start of the 2018-19 school year. Roberson also serves on the larger, 24-member technical advisory committee, or TAC, which met for the first time Tuesday and will offer expertise and advice to the main committee.
Roberson said both panels would continue discussing the district’s teacher shortage as they meet once a month over the next year.
Other TAC members, including Allison Serafin, vice president of the State Board of Education, demanded to know who to hold accountable when thousands of students — most of them in at-risk schools — greeted a long-term substitute instead of a fully licensed teacher on the first day of school.
Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, fielding such questions for nearly two hours, stated he already plans to move district-level instructional coaches and project facilitators into the classroom starting early next year after the winter break.
That’s the first phase of a larger proposal Skorkowsky pitched to the main committee last month. The next two phases would call for the creation of seven so-called “instructional precincts” based on the electoral maps of the Clark County School Board.
Skorkowsky would appoint sub-superintendents to each precinct to guide decisions at the schools there, with multiple layers of local advisory councils offering feedback. However, his proposal maintains most of his own power — and that of the sitting school board — and keeps a majority central operations within district headquarters.
Residents of Moapa Valley have a different idea. They pitched a competing plan that would strip power away from Skorkowsky and the school board.
“The Clark County School District is now divided into seven large politically driven districts, which do not recognize natural, cultural or physical boundaries,” said Larry Moses, a TAC member and retired principal of the Moapa Valley High School.
“In essence, diverse cultures and communities have been lost and disenfranchised without any unique representation at the altar of the whole,” he said.
Moses and other Moapa Valley leaders asked the TAC to create stand-alone precincts for the rural community and the cities of Mesquite, Boulder City, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Las Vegas.
Other large issues the TAC must consider before Jan. 1 include the impact any reorganization plan would have on the district’s ability to issue and repay construction debt and provide services to English language learners, students of color and children from low-income households.
“The (U.S.) Department of Justice is watching this closely,” said Skorkowsky, who noted the district already is subject to a desegregation plan.
The TAC won’t meet again until mid-December, though the main advisory committee reconvenes on Nov. 23.
Contact Neal Morton at email@example.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton