OPINION: Crowded schools: The cost of rejecting property tax increase

The Clark County School District and its taxpayers have an old, unpopular problem: a lack of classroom space for a growing student population. As a result, a new school year began Monday with a return to an old, unpopular practice: year-round schedules.

Three southwest valley elementary schools shifted their academic calendars to better manage crowded conditions. As reported Sunday by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, Forbuss, Reedom and Wright elementary schools switched to 12-month schedules, placing students into five rotating attendance tracks, with one track always on break.

The move relieves some of the pressure of over-capacity enrollment; Forbuss, for example, had about 1,200 students last year at a campus built to accommodate about 800 children. The switch means less-crowded hallways, lunch breaks and special classes, such as art and physical education. But it costs the public about $308,000 per year more to run a year-round school — a big reason the school district moved away from the schedule a few years ago — and families generally despise track breaks because of the disruption to routines and limited child care and camp offerings outside of summer.

As Mr. Milliard reported, more schools likely will switch to year-round schedules in the years ahead because of already crowded conditions and growing enrollments. Last year, more than 40 elementary schools had enrollments between 25 percent and 75 percent over capacity. And this year, the school district ran out of the portable classrooms needed to accommodate all those kids.

On Sept. 4, the School Board will initiate a conversation on another unpopular remedy for crowding: redrawing attendance zones. If the school district takes that step for the 2014-15 academic year, the decision must be made by February. Few local education issues are as emotional and hard-fought as rezoning, which inevitably shifts families from schools they like.

“I think it’s inevitable if we don’t build more schools,” Trustee Lorraine Alderman said.

The school district’s options are limited because voters last year overwhelmingly rejected a temporary property tax increase that would have put $700 million into school construction and renovation. Year-round schedules and rezoning are the price to the public of not building more schools.

Amid these infrastructure challenges is the campaign for a new margins tax on business. The tax, backed by the teachers union, will appear on the 2014 ballot. Set aside the flaws of the tax, which would hit even businesses that lose money, and the jobs it would eliminate. Education advocates want to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars it would generate on full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten expansions, as well as reduced class sizes across the board.

Without adequate classroom space, where do we put all those new teachers? In the cafeteria? You can’t expand operations without adequate facilities. Voters should remember that when they consider the margins tax next year.

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