Superintendent’s remarks overlap schools’ crunch time for budget planning

More than 300 schools have less than four weeks to submit operations plans and budgets for the next academic year, but the chief executive of the Clark County School District took time today to celebrate student and staff achievements.

“The future of the Clark County School District is not about just us in this room,” Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky told several hundred administrators, principals, community members, teachers and students gathered inside a Valley High School auditorium. “It’s about the people who are in our schools.”

The opening comments of his annual address served as a jumping-off point for Skorkowsky to highlight how schools will operate under the state-mandated reorganization. The people affiliated with each school will become ever more important as the nation’s fifth largest school district hands over more budgetary decision-making power to individual schools, he said.

The crux of the reorganization plan is the creation of “school organizational teams” or “SOTs” — consisting of principals, staff members and parents who will make operational and budgetary decisions with an eye toward improving student learning.

The concept isn’t entirely new. Many schools in the district already have been informally pooling the collective brainpower of those people to find creative solutions to problems. For instance, Sewell Elementary School decided to put more money toward hiring intervention staff who could work with small groups of students, while staff at Frias Elementary School across town created a beach-themed math lounge — complete with learning games on iPads — to provide extra instruction time outside of daily classroom lessons.

Skorkowsky said these type of decisions mirror how the district “will do business” in the future. “As we go forward, it is with the entire community coming together to ensure that our students have what they need to be successful,” he said.

SOTs have already been established at all of the district’s 351 schools and are busy crafting budgets for the 2017-2018 academic year, Skorkowsky said. The schools must submit their “plan of operation,” which includes funding allocations for staffing and programs or initiatives, by Feb. 22, he said.

The schools’ budgets do not include weighted funding, a requirement of the state reorganization regulation, because the district has not been given additional funds, Skorkowsky said. The weighted funding would allot more per-pupil money to special education students, children who come from low-income families, gifted students and students whose primary language is not English.

Skorkowsky called on lawmakers to address the issue at the upcoming legislative session, which starts Feb. 6. “I would like to see a full implementation of the weighted funding formula as well as the funds to support that so that we are ensuring that students who may cost us more to educate are given those resources in the school,” he said.

The structural reorganization isn’t the only improvement effort underway, though. The district also is renovating two schools and will be opening seven new schools in 2017, Skorkowsky said. Another five new schools will welcome students in 2018.

During the event, Skorkowsky let students showcase their talents: The Valley High School jazz band welcomed guests. Its key club pumped up the crowd gathered in the auditorium. And a nationally-renowned mariachi band from another school performed for the audience.

All community members, young and old and from different backgrounds, will be vital to ensuring the success of the district’s reorganization, he said.

“We are in the middle of a transformation where we will see more engagement of our families, our teachers, our support staff and our administrators as well as business and community members across the valley,” he said. “This is one of the most exciting times.”

Caption: A Valley High School jazz band performs for guests entering the school for the superintendent's annual state of the district address on Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Jackie Valley.