The Clark County School District has a facility crisis — and it has nothing to do with its lack of classroom space.
The district needs about $1 billion worth of new schools to accommodate enrollment growth over the next decade, but that figure pales in comparison to the billions of dollars worth of maintenance, repairs and renovations needed at the system’s existing 357 schools and offices.
The exact figure is hard to accurately measure. The school district says it needs $6.5 billion for upgrades — a figure that nearly matches the estimated value of all the system’s buildings and land. Does Clark County really need to raze and rebuild all of its schools, including the ones built just a few years ago? Of course not. But the school district does need to do a better job maintaining its buildings and equipment, which require routine work to prevent them from falling into such disrepair that they completely fail prematurely.
The problem isn’t so much lack of funding. It’s poor management of existing funding. The school district — along with other governments — has robbed from its maintenance budget to boost the salaries of its employees and prevent other operational cuts. Forty-seven maintenance jobs have been axed. Never mind that the district’s CFO has warned elected trustees that every dollar not spent on routine maintenance creates $4 in capital costs down the road in the form of major repairs and replacements.
The taxpayers can’t count on their governments to keep up with building maintenance and be good stewards of public resources, so they need help from the Legislature and Gov. Brian Sandoval. The Review-Journal’s seventh of 25 policy recommendations to lawmakers and Gov. Sandoval in 25 days: walling off maintenance funds to prevent their expenditure on other operations.
Governments can’t spend capital dollars on operations. Your school bond revenue will never support teacher salaries, bus fuel or school utilities. Maintenance funds should have the same statutory protection. Otherwise, governments have a perverse incentive to ignore maintenance: using capital dollars to replace everything from air conditioners to roofs instead of repair them. That’s hugely and unnecessarily expensive for the public.
Walling off maintenance funds also would prevent public employee unions from seeing those dollars in budgets and making salary demands that might be met by an arbitrator.
It would help greatly if the 2015 Legislature, which convenes Feb. 2, would pass two of our previous policy recommendations — ending binding arbitration and repealing the prevailing wage — to make tax dollars go farther and make school maintenance and construction cheaper. But protecting maintenance funds from being diverted out of political expedience would go a long way toward restoring accountability — and trust — in our governments.
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