Legislative leaders put aside party differences and came together from both the Senate and the Assembly to show their commitment to a dramatic overhaul of the Clark County School District and their hope of squashing a lawsuit filed against the regulations.
Lawmakers held a rare joint hearing Wednesday night on AB469, which would place controversial reorganization regulations into state law to alleviate concerns about their legality. And despite opposition and an ongoing lawsuit over the regulations from the district, the measure appears headed to a quick victory because it’s sponsored by the four most powerful members of the Legislature.
“We want to do what’s best for Nevada students,” said Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who presented the bill while seated next to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson and Republican Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson. “I appreciate my colleagues joining in and making sure this is a united front.”
Legislators believe the law would squash the basis of a lawsuit recently refiled by the Clark County School Board of Trustees against the Nevada Department of Education and State Board of Education regarding a number of concerns about the reorganization, which must be implemented by the start of the upcoming school year.
Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky voiced the sole opposition to the bill, which wasn’t a surprise. State education officials and school district leaders have been locked in a months-long battle over the reorganization plan, which shifts more budgeting and decision-making power to individual schools.
“We are not fearful of the reorganization,” Skorkowsky said. “We are fearful of making sure that we don’t make mistakes that are going to impact our students for years to come. This reorganization, if codified into law, will last long after all of us are in this room. We need to make sure it is done right.”
District officials have balked at the plan’s requirement to use a weighted funding formula, which would allot more per-pupil dollars to students with extra needs. Because the state hasn’t established weights or funded the concept, the district shouldn’t be required to use a weighted funding formula, Skorkowsky said.
He also mentioned the district’s challenges shifting 80 percent of nonrestricted funds to individual schools during this budgeting cycle — another requirement of the reorganization.
“We have done what we can in the 130 days we were given,” Skorkowsky said.
Despite the school district’s opposition, representatives from a pro-reorganization advocacy group called Break Free CCSD gushed that parents and teachers were relishing the chance to make important decisions for their schools. Education officials and stakeholders including Clark County Education Association leader John Vellardita praised the legislation and process that led to the regulations.
“This is a game changer,” he said.
The parties haven’t been sitting idle waiting for a judge to make a decision. The Nevada Department of Education has held workshops in an attempt to resolve some of the school district’s issues, but those discussions haven’t yielded much progress.
“We would like it to be more productive,” said Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright. “We just firmly believe that our concerns are really valid.”
In spite of the district’s hesitations and lawsuit, implementation is roaring full-speed ahead.
“We are working so fast and furious ... to be able to meet the expectations of the law and the regulations,” Wright said, adding that successes have come “because our people have worked night and day to make sure those budget books are available, make sure the trainings are available, make sure the principals have been trained.”
Anderson brushed off suggestions that the legislative fix is being rushed. He said in an earlier interview that the codifying the regulations into law would put legislators and the district at a “more even level.”
“We’re certainly not against any of the suggestions that they’ve made, but not at the threat of a lawsuit,” he said in an earlier interview. “They may not have seen this language, but they certainly read the regulations, and it’s the exact same thing.”
Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, said the bill would likely be voted out of committee sometime next week.
Anderson said legislators didn’t intend on accepting amendments to the bill, and would forge a future path in a promised “trailer” measure that would process on a more normal timeline.
Wright said she’s not sure whether the board would renew its lawsuit if the bill passes and nullifies its existing one.
“I’m hoping we can continue to work on the bill,” she said after the hearing. “Let’s stop throwing red herrings and get to the meat of changing what needs to be changed.”
The ambitious, state-mandated plan to overhaul how the nation’s fifth-largest school district operates dates back to the final minutes of the 2015 legislative session. That’s when lawmakers passed AB394, which authorized an interim advisory committee to develop the reorganization plan.
More than two dozen public meetings ensued before the advisory committee recommended draft regulations, which the State Board of Education approved and the Legislative Commission adopted into Nevada’s administrative code in September. Since then, the district has been working on implementing the reorganization.
Supporters of the reorganization criticize trustees for not getting involved earlier in the process. They say the district’s lawsuit is an attempt to halt the reorganization.
“The key for us is we’ve got to keep this thing rolling,” Anderson said.