Nevada LegislatureSocial Justice

Back to the Drawing Board: A Conversation with Nancy Brune and Sylvia Lazos on CCSD and Public Education in Nevada

Last week, Clark County School District (CCSD) Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky announced his June 2018 retirement. As CCSD is navigating major changes in public education, including its own reorganization, we speak with experts on what lies ahead for the district. We also discuss whether a state budgetary formula is the root of CCSD’s ongoing financial woes.

The big departure

On September 7, CCSD Superintendent Pat Skorskowsky stressed that it was “his decision alone” to retire next June. Skorkowsky has pointed to rising graduation rates and new magnet programs as accomplishments during his tenure. Nonetheless, he’s attracted criticism in recent months over CCSD’s looming $60 million budget deficit andnd his proposed budget cuts to address it.

Skorkowsky’s departure also comes during a period of major transition for CCSD. In 2015, the Nevada Legislature approved AB 394 to reorganize CCSD by decentralizing its leadership structure. In 2017, the Legislature passed AB 469 to make sure CCSD finishes its reorganization.

Is money still an issue? (Yes, it is.)

Skorkowsky has explained CCSD’s $60 million shortfall by pointing to the state’s K-12 funding formula as the main culprit. Guinn Center Executive Director Nancy Brune thinks there’s at least some truth to Skorkowsky’s argument. “When you look at revenue for base [school district] funding, the funding has not kept up with student enrollment growth.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

We also spoke with Educate Nevada Now Policy Director Sylvia Lazos, who pointed out that the 2015 tax reform deal was far from a panacea. “It was a down payment on what the children of Nevada really need,” Lazos said.

Lazos then explained how the Nevada Plan, the state’s 50-year old K-12 education funding formula, is at the heart of the chronic budget woes at CCSD and other Nevada school districts. “CCSD is in the hole $200 million a year for special education alone. That’s $200 million more than what’s envisioned under the Nevada Plan. If Nevada were to fully fund special education students, we wouldn’t have this crisis right now.”

Time to (re)organize…

With Skorkowsky set to leave next year, how does this affect CCSD? Brune doubts the changing of the guard will derail reorganization. “The reform train is pretty well on its way. I don’t think a change in leadership will threaten reorganization.”

Photo provided by the Guinn Center

Still, Brune recommended against forcing Skorkowsky out sooner in order to ensure stability at the district. “I don’t think that’s a good recipe. I agree that Skorkowsky needs to stay in place until next June.”

Or does the reorganization need to be reorganized?

While Lazos sees value in the concept, she stressed that reorganization does not fix the source of CCSD’s chronic budget shortfalls. “The math of reorganization has not been thought out.” Lazos pointed out that changing the structure of the school district does not change the funding formula that shortchanges students. “Reorganization is great for the purpose of collaboration, parental input. But if there isn’t enough support for schools, these changes are just cosmetic.”

Lazos then pointed out another potential problem for reorganization: “We have a promise to rural schools that you will be held harmless, and we made a promise to urban schools that you can keep ‘savings’. The Legislature hasn’t dealt with the fact that it’s given CCSD new rules for distribution, but it hasn’t changed the [state’s K-12 funding formula].”

“The root problem is insufficient funding.”
– Sylvia Lazos, Educate Nevada Now

For Lazos, it keeps coming back to this: “The root problem is insufficient funding.” She then explained why it’s a problem that the state still uses a 50 year old funding formula that was developed before Clark County became the large, diverse metropolis it is today. “It’s inadequate. It’s never been updated. Rural schools cost more, and urban schools need more resources for [English Language Learners].”

Lazos then turned back to CCSD’s budget in connecting the dots between the state’s education budget and the district’s. “We have a lot of people unhappy because it’s easier to blame CCSD than to say, ‘Let’s really look at what we spend on education and assess whether it’s enough.’ It’s easier to demand from teachers high performance than to provide sufficient support.”
Cover photo made available by Nellis Air Force Base, U.S. Air Force

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