There’s a $505 million disconnect between Clark County School District officials’ words and actions on facility needs.
The district needs “a $4.1 billion, yes billion with a ‘b,’ investment” in capital improvement projects, superintendent Jesus Jara said at his state of the schools speech last week. Facilities officials have long warned that the district neglects routine maintenance.
Jara’s actions, however, undercut both his cries of poverty and the merits of giving the district more money. For context, the 2015 Legislature gave the district the ability to issue bonds for 10 years. That authorization has provided the district $4.1 billion to spend. Jara wants another $4.1 billion, which would likely come from a property tax hike. From the 2015-16 school year to the 2018-19 school year, district enrollment was basically flat, going from 319,700 students to 320,000 students.
To compare, the district’s 1998 bond program generated $4.9 billion. Over the next 15 years, the student population increased by 100,000, around a 50 percent increase. The district built 101 new schools, 19 replacement schools and spent $1.6 billion on school improvements.
At a November board meeting, Jara recommended spending $505 million on two new Career and Technical Academies, which the board approved. CTAs are great. But Jara’s reason for wanting new CTAs doesn’t square with putting his hand out for another $4 billion.
“Last year, we took in 1,300 students coming back to our CTAs from our charter schools and from our private schools,” Jara said. “So when you look at (that) as an organization, that is something that’s working. So then we go back in and then we do more of (it), because that’s what our community and our children and our families are asking.”
This is mind boggling. Jara simultaneously claims schools need $4 billion for maintenance and that the district should spend $505 million on new CTAs to attract non-district students. Jara should be sending charter and private schools thank-you notes. Having more students will make the maintenance backlog worse. Jara’s priority should be helping current students, not poaching kids from smaller schools.
The Henderson CTA will cost an estimated $260 million. The district had previously planned to build a $16.3 million expansion at three Henderson high schools. The district isn’t known for its math prowess, so here’s a little help. Building those expansions instead of a new CTA would save the district more than $200 million, which it could put toward maintenance.
What’s especially funny is that, in other contexts, Jara bemoans the lack of racial diversity at CTAs, which consist of magnet programs. Jara has implied that teachers who discipline students are secret racists for less than this. Maybe he needs a refresher on implicit bias.
Regardless, don’t take Jara’s calls for more money seriously when he prioritizes empire building over scheduled maintenance.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at email@example.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.