Initiative petition would split Clark County School District

Of the five statewide Initiative Petitions currently being circulated, Assemblywoman Sandra Tiffany's petition to amend the state constitution to enable the Clark County School District to be divided into two or more separate districts is probably the least known and the least understood.

Those living outside of Clark County ask why a statewide collection of signatures is needed for a Clark County education issue.

During a Special Session in 1956, the Nevada State Legislature reduced the number of Nevada school districts from 208 to 17. All districts are now defined by county boundaries. The huge Clark County School District cannot be separated into smaller districts without legislative action amending Chapter 386 of the Nevada Revised Statutes.

Therein lies the problem.

The Legislature has been unwilling to amend current law. In fact, the proposal has not made it out of committee. So Tiffany has resorted to the petition process. The Clark County School District is among the 10 largest in the country. There are currently 159 elementary schools, 37 middle schools, 31 high schools, 17 alternative schools and four special needs schools serving 217,139 students. Over 100 schools have opened in the past 10 years. Seven new schools will open next year.

Many believe the students would be better served if the district were divided into more administratively manageable proportions.

Why is the Legislature opposed to even discussing a change that would affect only Clark County? There is certainly more than one state law written to accommodate a specific county or region. In a state as large and diverse as Nevada, it is often the best way to resolve regional concerns.

The 1995 legislature allocated $300,000 to study reconfiguration of the structure of school districts in the state. Completed in August 1996, the study stated that deconsolidation of the Clark County school district would be a complex and difficult process and pointed out the problems involved in resolving property and sales tax inequalities and in forming racially equitable homogeneous districts. It recommended against a full-scale breakup of the district, but suggested that proceeding incrementally with one or two smaller districts could reduce some of the risks involved with deconsolidation.

Opponents of Tiffany's efforts say: Smaller districts do not predicate increased quality in education; creation of separate districts will be more expensive; division will create economic inequity among districts in the long run; the Nevada Plan, the state formula funding school district operations, will be thrown into turmoil.

Assemblywoman Tiffany, however, wouldn't be dedicating significant time and money to this effort without good reason. She has done considerable homework on the issue and believes strongly that having the option of creating smaller, locally run school districts would be to the ultimate benefit of the district's students.

According to Tiffany:

- Large school districts spend less money on instructional programs. More money goes toward administrative costs.

- Larger school districts have larger schools. Quality of education tends to decline in larger schools; there is less interaction between parents and school officials; there is less interaction between students and teachers.

- If a new district is formed, the proposed legislation allows for the leasing of services from Clark County (much as Fernley will be leasing services from Lyon County when they become a new city). The current number of 22 area superintendents in Clark County would, in probability, be reduced with the creation of community based schools.

- The Nevada Plan funds school district operations. There cannot be inequitable distribution of state funds for this purpose. The city of Henderson is the most probable sight of a new district. While the area is the site of new growth, it is one of the oldest cities in Clark County. It encompasses diverse ethnic and economic lifestyles and a variety of assessed valuations.

- For those concerned with inequities in assessed valuation related to new growth, the Las Vegas strip would remain in the Clark County school district.

If successful, Tiffany's petition would simply enable a city to proceed with a long and complex process of establishing a separate school district. The process would be similar to that of a community wishing to remove itself from county authority to become an incorporated city.

However, without a change in current state law, there is no recourse for those living in one of the most rapidly expanding school districts in the country. And, since the Nevada legislature is apparently unwilling to consider the issue, without a successful initiative petition, there will be no change in current state law.

Adoption of this change in state law will affect no one outside of Clark County. However, without the support of those living outside of Clark County, the quality of education of a number of young people could well be affected.

As with all initiative petitions, a prerequisite number of signatures are needed. Call 702-451-7301 for information on this issue.

Think about it.

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