- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada lawmakers kicked off an effort Monday to divide the giant Clark County School District into several smaller precincts - something that proponents say will help the behemoth organization be more responsive to the needs of students and parents.

Nine legislators from southern Nevada met in Las Vegas as part of the Advisory Committee to Develop a Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District. Lawmakers passed a much-debated bill this spring, AB394, that called for the advisory committee as well as a more diverse technical committee to explore possible rearrangements.

“I would hope that wherever you think you stand today on the issue of reorganizing the fifth-largest school district in the country,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, who was elected chairman, “I hope that by the end of this process we won’t look back and say we missed an opportunity to improve the school district. This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.”

Clark County School District has more than 320,000 students. Supporters of AB394 say dividing it further will help more parents get involved in decision-making and give them more access to leadership.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said Monday that creating precincts with more control over their budgets might help with the district’s dire teacher shortage. Clark County schools would still be subject to districtwide collective bargaining agreements, he said, but precincts could customize their pay structures in ways that could encourage experienced teachers to stay in poorer, lower-achieving schools with high teacher vacancy rates.

Critics fear dividing the district would exacerbate racial and economic disparities. They have also raised concerns that a new structure would jeopardize the district’s credit rating.

District financial executives said the district’s credit rating should stay intact if all bonding business is handled by the central office, rather than at the precinct level. They testified against the alternative of splitting the district into truly autonomous mini-districts, saying it would reduce overall bonding capacity and could violate the terms of existing bond agreements.

Skorkowsky has proposed dividing the district into seven precincts along the lines of the regions represented by each of the seven trustees. He suggested the appointment of precinct superintendents, who would be paid with money budgeted for positions that remain vacant.

“We are doing everything we can not to add expenses,” he said.

Lawmakers must develop a reorganization plan by Jan. 1, 2017, so precincts could be in place by the 2018-2019 school year if the strategy gets final approval.

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