Pat, Personally

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Overcrowding - passionate opinions are part of the process

The Clark County School District (CCSD) has been closely tracking recent growth in student enrollment, and we hit a record all-time enrollment for our district this school year.

Even if we filled every open seat in every elementary school, we would have enough students to build 23 more elementary schools – and we continue to grow at an incredible rate.

This has forced us to have a difficult discussion: How do we alleviate overcrowding, especially in our elementary schools, so we can ensure student safety and maintain quality instruction in our classrooms?

There are three ways to fix overcrowding: build more schools, change attendance boundaries to move families to less crowded schools, and convert schools to a year-round schedule.

Can’t we build new schools?

For many years, Clark County was one of the fastest-growing school districts in the nation, and it seemed that the district could not build schools fast enough to meet our needs.

Under our last bond program, passed by voters in 1998, we built 101 new schools, delivered 19 replacement schools and completed massive school improvements throughout Clark County. However, the bond funds have largely run out, and despite our incredible growth, CCSD does not have funding to build new schools, or renovate old ones. Voters did not approve a new ballot measure for school facilities in 2012.

The rezoning process

The Attendance Zone Advisory Commission (AZAC) makes recommendations to the Board of School Trustees on zoning changes.

The unpaid community volunteers who serve on the commission continue to evaluate the details they have gathered from district staff, along with the public input they have received, to make recommendations to the CCSD School Board of Trustees. AZAC members voted on their final recommendations January 21 (see http://azac.ccsd.net for more information).

The Board of School Trustees has the final say on zoning changes, and they are scheduled to take public testimony and vote on zoning changes on February 26.

Year-round conversions

Parents and community stakeholders have written to me, attended meetings and passionately voiced their opinions regarding the overcrowding of schools in their neighborhoods. I welcome passionate opinions, because it means our families are engaged in their children’s education, and the community. I am glad that so many families love their school so much.

By the end of February, I will also announce my decision on which schools will transition to a year-round calendar. I am reading every e-mail I receive on the issue and closely monitoring the pockets of growth we are seeing across the county.

Moving forward

Together, as a community, we must have a conversation about how to deal with our growing student population. The solutions do not lie in looking the other way or turning one neighborhood against another, but in creating a true community effort so that all Clark County public schools can work together to handle growth and improve student achievement. 

I know families are frustrated. I hear their concerns for their children’s education, safety, and overall comfort. When it comes to neighborhood schools, parents want long-term plans and solutions.

I taught elementary school and I remember how important it was for students to see familiar faces when they return to school. I must weigh those needs with the problems caused by overcrowding – potential safety issues and larger class sizes.

Clark County’s population growth is rebounding and our economy appears to be recovering. This is good news, but it also means this issue will only become more pressing. A long-term solution to school overcrowding will require more school buildings, more chairs and more dollars than we currently have.

No matter how many students are enrolled in our schools, we will work every day to provide quality instruction that ensures the success of every student in every classroom.