Nevada Schools Tax Increase Plan Sidesteps Critical Needs

Published October 12, 2012

LAS VEGAS — Clark County School District trustees contend the 21 cent property-tax increase they’re seeking is necessary to repair and modernize 41 schools.

“The district needs to repair or replace critical infrastructure,” said district officials in a recent press release, “such as air conditioning, heating, plumbing, electrical and security systems at some of CCSD’s older schools.”

The country’s fifth-largest school district’s plans for spending the tax-increase money frequently and significantly differ from its public talking points, however.

Doubling Gyms
One example is planned construction of gyms at high schools that already have gyms—while other schools, with more pressing needs, are lacking.

The “capital needs” list  trustees approved in May and offered to justify their tax-increase campaign specifies new gymnasiums for four high schools that already have gyms. These are projected to cost $11.9 million each.

To compare, the University of Nevada Las-Vegas’s massive, new Mendenhall Center, a 38,000 sq. foot, state-of-the-art gymnasium comparable with facilities at Duke and Louisville, cost $11.6 million.

Yet schools such as Pat Diskin Elementary—where last month a failure of its heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system forced the school’s closure—do not make the list.

Diskin, built in 1973, is not among the seven schools named on the district “needs” list for complete HVAC-system replacement. All of those schools were built in the early 1990s.

For example, Grant Sawyer Middle School, built in 1993, received a $10 million HVAC overhaul just four years ago, yet is on the district’s “needs” list to receive an $8.8 million replacement. And Greenspun Middle School, built in 1991, received a $1.9 million HVAC upgrade in 2009, according to CCSD records—yet it too is slated for an $8.8 million upgrade.

When the Clark County Debt Management Committee met June 7, other schools were cited as in dire need of repair. One was Lois Craig Elementary in North Las Vegas. It is not on the “needs” list.

Maintenance Deferred, Luxuries Bought
School district staff “have deferred maintenance and deferred maintenance to where they go out to Lois Craig and take duct tape to hold up conduits for refrigeration and put plywood to hold up the damn steps to the portables,” County Commissioner Tom Collins told committee colleagues.

Collins, who is seeking reelection to the county commission in November, was influential in adding a second gym for Moapa Valley High to the “needs” list.

West Prep has 25 portable buildings for 400 elementary-school students and school advocates have been trying to get a new building since 2006. West Prep wasn’t included in previous improvement plans but is finally listed to receive a $12 million “complete conversion.”

CCSD estimates converting a 400-student elementary school will cost only $100,000 more than a new high school gym.

Parents and students brought Gibson Middle School to the board’s attention. During a Feb. 24, 2011 meeting, students complained of roof leaks, plumbing backups, and unsafe floors.

“I bet you don’t have to deal with old plumbing in your building,” a Gibson student told the board during the meeting, a reference to the district’s $14.5 million administrative building, frequently referred to as “The Pink Palace.” It has tiled showers, marble floors, and remote-controlled curtains.

“From the outside, things might look functional, but you never really know what’s going on, on the inside,” said Trustee Lorraine Alderman in May. “[With] a lot of these older buildings … the walls are still sturdy but the air conditioning’s not working, the roofs need [replacing].”

Paying Twice
Basic High School, which has received $28 million in renovations since 1994, including a $2.3 million gym addition, is targeted to receive another $27 million from the new tax if passed by voters in November.

By comparison, five elementary schools slated for “major modernizations” under the new tax would each receive less than the cost of the planned gyms.

Many schools on the list are scheduled to receive money to repair problems supposedly fixed with previous bond money. Thirteen schools are listed as needing “electrical system upgrades” ranging from $700,000 to $2.1 million. Ten already received money for “electrical upgrades” from previous capital improvement plans.

Beckley Elementary received a total of $421,665 in electrical upgrades from the 1994 and 1998 plans, and McWilliams Elementary received $257,961 from the 1998 plan. Culley Elementary received $604,935 from the 1998 plan, but is listed to receive another $700,000 from the proposed 2012 plan.

The Las Vegas Sun reported in September that the district would launch a “multimedia advertising campaign” consisting of 250,000 mailers, several community meetings, and door-to-door efforts promoting the tax increase.

The tax initiative, if passed by voters this November, would raise property taxes another 21 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Kyle Gillis is a reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research InstituteNevada Journal’s Karen Gray contributed to this report, which is reprinted from Nevada Journal with permission.


Image by Total Mayhem.