By MAGGIE MCMURRAY
Moapa Valley Progress
In an emotionally charged meeting with overflow attendance, members of the Mack Lyon Middle School School Organizational Team (SOT), and concerned parents, met with Lyon principal Ken Paul and CCSD Associate Superintendent Jeff Hybarger regarding the loss of yet another teaching position at the school for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. Recent budget cuts have resulted in the total loss of the art program at the school. Repercussions were also felt in the computer classes, coding classes, and several after-school clubs and programs.
According to Paul, the loss of the art program alone affects a full 50% of the 7th and 8th grade students.
Parents expressed frustration at another lost program at the school that has been popular among kids.
“Kids have different strengths and different skills,” said SOT member and concerned parent Randy Tobler. “Some kids can only express themselves through art. An art student needs an art class. That’s just how it is.”
Others pointed out that art is a cultural tradition that is important to our Native American population and students and that taking out art can have a negative affect on many of those students as well.
SOT member Annalyn James pointed out that the heart of the issue was equity and whether local schools could offer an education that was comparable to what students in Las Vegas are receiving.
Paul explained how the funding for the program was originally received. Before AB394, schools received funding based on the number of students they served. Because small schools, such as Mack Lyon, cannot offer a comprehensive education on that budget alone, they have, in the past, always received a “small school allocation” of additional teachers to cover the subjects they could not have offered with straight per pupil allocations.
Paul explained that Lyon had historically received 9 teachers through the small school allotment. In recent years, though, that number has dwindled from 9 down to 6, even though student enrollment for the school has been on the rise.
Paul said they were given 1 “off-ratio” or “discretionary” spot for next year due to their higher enrollment, but that still leaves a deficit of two teaching spots.
SOT member and parent, Aimee Houghtalen presented the position of the parents to Paul and Hybarger. “It is unacceptable to lose another teaching position when enrollment is up and school funding as well,” she told Hybarger. “You have been designated as our advocate and we would prefer to work in a partnership with you to stop this position loss. For this purpose, we are asking that you push back on our behalf and let the district know they cannot take another teacher from this school.”
Houghtalen presented several points on what the loss of yet another teacher will bring. She pointed out that this loss affects art, computers, the ability to block-teach math classes, and the loss of Credit Retrieval as a course. She further clarified that in addition to being a “small school,” Lyon is also a rural school and the students have no other recourse for their education. Unlike similar small schools in Vegas, busing is not offered to magnet schools, charter schools, or specialty schools from the remote areas. Houghtalen said that this creates a huge inequity between Vegas and local schools. Losing the position will also impact test scores and performance ratings.
“As you are solely the one evaluated on these scores and the progress or decline of our students, this is a reason to be personally invested in our fight to stop this loss,” Houghtalen told Hybarger.
According to Houghtalen, the SOT team has been working for 6 months to try to get answers on budget allocation with no luck. As they write letters and go through official channels, their inquiries have received unsatisfactory answers or no answers at all. Most inquiries eventually reached a dead end and were dropped.
The team members called on Hybarger as their official advocate with the district to change this.
“Mr. Hybarger needs to be our advocate,” said SOT member Lindsey Dalley. “An advocate is emotionally invested as opposed to just a manager.”
Dalley called on Hybarger to stop just managing school issues and become an advocate for them with the district. “As parents, we need to understand the positions that everyone plays in this,” Dalley said. “If we don’t, we will automatically lose for not knowing the rules to the game.”
Many people pointed out that under AB394 there is no more “small school” allocation. Funding is to be based on an allotment per student. However, there is a clause for rural schools. Dalley urged Hybarger to make sure that valley schools are noted as being rural.
“We are rural,” he said. “In your discussions, you can’t let them switch that word to ‘small’. AB384 specifically mentions rural schools. Make sure no language-change-games occur.”
Hybarger said that he is currently arguing points for other rural schools as well, including Boulder City. Paul reiterated that there is a difference between rural and small. A rural school is defined as an outlying community with their own town board or city council. Although Boulder City qualifies as both rural and small under this definition, just as Moapa Valley does, there is a vast difference in the opportunities for Boulder City students versus Moapa Valley students.
Parents agreed that this point should be strongly emphasized to CCSD officials. Parent Annie Leavitt strengthened the point saying that unlike Boulder City, our students have no other options outside of the local school. “Boulder City students are bused to magnet schools and charter schools,” Leavitt said. “They have YMCA’s, art studios, and dance studios to pick up where school leaves off. Out here our kids have nothing. We have less than nothing.”
Hybarger said that he would be happy to work with school administrators to draft a letter to the district highlighting the concerns of the SOT committee.
Many parents were unimpressed by this answer. Tobler pointed out that several letters had already been written; but they had eventually been lost in web of CCSD bureaucracy. Houghtalen added that the SOT wanted the letter to have more weight than just another letter from school administration. They wanted Hybarger, in his position as advocate, to take a more active role in representing the school.
Parent Shanan Kelly pointed out that anytime there is an issue with students, it always comes back to “that dirty word: budget.”
“Never in the history of CCSD has every school had its own strategic budget,” Hybarger said. “It is such a new thing, however, we are still working through it. There is one big budget pot and a lot of hungry mouths. We need to fight for our portion and keep pushing. We have never been so financially crunched in the history of CCSD. We are hoping after this legislative session ends that we’ll have more money.”
Houghtalen felt that the SOT team, at the very least, should be consulted and included in the drafting of the letter. Hybarger agreed that this would probably be workable.
Parent Deon Zerkle said that a copy of the letter ought to be sent to the Nevada State Department of Education, letting them know that CCSD was not abiding by the statues set forth in AB394. Dalley expressed an interest in going before the Nevada State Board of Education for the same reason.
Parent Tamara Harding suggested an organized phone call assault on CCSD officials. Hybarger stated that although the problem may eventually have to be addressed by going through back door methods like these, he was hoping that everyone would be willing to try the front door first.
“I will work with Ken Paul and his staff in writing a letter draft,” Hybarger said. “Then we will bring it to the SOT committee for review and any clarifications.”
Hybarger said that the letter would be written on school letterhead and bear his specific signature, alongside Principal Paul’s as well as any members of the SOT team that wish to sign. The letter would be delivered to the appropriate people within two weeks at the most, Hybarger pledged.
“After giving CCSD officials 5 business days to respond, we will follow up and push the issue,” Hybarger said. “If we get a response, we will look at it and go from there.”