EDITORIAL: Clark County School District can’t overlook maintenance issues

Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky gave his annual State of the District address on Feb. 29 — leap day — and put forth a series of initiatives for the 2016-17 school year, which will be his fourth at the helm of the nation’s fifth-largest district. He’ll certainly hope it doesn’t take until the next leap day four years from now to see tangible results.

As reported by the Review-Journal’s Neal Morton, Mr. Skorkowsky unveiled four initiatives he plans to debut or expand in the upcoming school year. Among those, 16 campuses will enjoy a boost in resources or new flexibility in hiring and budgeting decisions, something we can certainly get behind, as it would seemingly provide for more accountability at the school level. Another area we’ve previously advocated for, Zoom schools, is also expected to get a bump in 2016-17, with Mr. Skorkowsky adding five elementary schools and four middle schools to the model designed to help English language learners.

That will raise the Zoom program’s total from 29 to 38 schools that offer smaller class sizes, reading centers, extended school days and pre-kindergarten for all children who live in the attendance zone. Mr. Morton noted that 52 percent of first- through third-grade Zoom students now read proficiently at their grade level after two years in the program. That’s a laudable statistic, as we’ve noted the need to turn around the dismal performance of English Language Learner education in Clark County. However, the more that CCSD invests in the Zoom school model, the more important it is that the district shows this model to be the solution to the problem — to show that it works at a much higher rate than 52 percent. The district can’t afford a multiyear experiment that doesn’t deliver.

There was also a glaring omission in the speech: the district’s maintenance issue. The unfunded maintenance liability is a huge problem that continues to grow worse. After taking an $11.6 million haircut to help pay for the teachers’ new contract, the 2016 fiscal year maintenance budget stands at about $49 million, which works out to about $137,000 for each of the district’s 350-plus campuses and offices. When you start factoring in things such as roofing, plumbing, communications infrastructure, sidewalks and more, that amount isn’t going to go far.

With facility needs already at crisis level on some campuses, the issue is even more pronounced. Letting equipment and buildings fall further into disrepair is a huge disservice to taxpayers who put forth billions of dollars in public investment to build all those schools. Borrowing money on the capital side is the wrong way to handle the problem. As we’ve previously proposed, public school maintenance funds must be walled off, via statutory protection, if the district ever hopes to meet its massive maintenance needs.

Mr. Skorkowsky recently had his contract renewed, and to his credit, he declined any increase in pay or benefits, which is a good message to send to his charges. He recognizes that the system has great needs that outweigh all else. Many of Mr. Skorkowsky’s initiatives and proposals are well-intentioned and in fact represent steps forward. But maintenance must be considered, as well. The district urgently needs a viable plan.

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