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Below capacity

No one in the Clark County School District could have seen this problem coming. Just nine months ago, the country’s fifth-largest school system was seeking support for a $7 billion construction bond issue. Today, it’s struggling to figure out how to fill hundreds of empty seats at a Henderson high school.

The effects of the housing implosion just keep multiplying. The area around Liberty High School has been hit hard by foreclosures. Where residential developments were expected to rise, there is vacant land. As a result, the attendance boundaries drawn up by the school district to equalize student populations at Henderson’s high schools are as unbalanced as a banker’s bottom line.

Liberty is about 750 teens short of its 2,621-student capacity. Nearby Coronado High School is about 500 teens over its 2,659-student capacity. Coronado’s classrooms are packed. Liberty’s campus is comparatively quiet, and the school is having a hard time filling clubs and fielding teams.

Liberty’s educational environment might be viewed as favorable, but from the district’s perspective, the school is being underutilized. Considering the operational, maintenance and debt costs of running a relatively new campus, taxpayers are not getting as much bang for their buck.

And more-crowded campuses have legitimate complaints about teacher workloads and students’ abilities to pursue their interests.

But the district is having a hard time finding a solution. Proposals to shift the attendance boundaries and force hundreds of Coronado students to move to Liberty High School have been vigorously opposed by teens and their families. Students are reluctant to walk away from lifelong friends. Such attendance zoning issues have been common across the valley for years, but they usually resulted from rapid population growth, not pockets of enrollment decline.

On March 3, the Clark County School Board will consider a plan to move a couple of Henderson neighborhoods from the Coronado boundaries into Liberty’s attendance zone. The switch would affect nearly 300 students, according to the school district.

The second part of the plan, however, is much more favorable — the district simply would give all Coronado students the option of switching to Liberty High School. Some students might relish the opportunity to start fresh amid new faces, sit in less-crowded classes and have a chance to participate in clubs and sports that had been too crowded to accommodate them.

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