Assembly Bill 469, passed by the Nevada State Legislature with bipartisan support, sought to reorganize and reform the Clark County School District. Though it was a complex document, it really just focused on two basic things: transparency and autonomy. Rather than filtering all education funding down through a top-heavy central administration, the bill sought transparency by funneling the money directly to the local schools. And rather than the central bureaucracy keeping tight control on how budget decisions were made, the bill also sought autonomy for principals and community members to make decisions at the local level and fill the unique needs of their particular school. At its heart, the reform was a good idea. The legislature reinforced the bill’s urgency by attaching a tight timeline to its implementaton.The reforms were supposed to be in full effect by August for this 2017-18 school year.
We are now well past that deadline. Indeed it is now a quarter of the way through the school year. So it is a good time to take a look back and see how the implementation of AB 469 has gone. Have we actually begun to see reform in the CCSD through the emergence of greater transparency and autonomy? Unfortunately not.
First off, the bill mandated a per pupil formula for funding each school. But the per pupil funding figures for the previous 2016-17 year were withheld from local school administrators until many weeks after school started this year. So it was impossible for principals to know exactly where they stood and where their budget numbers were coming from. Only with political pressure applied through the State Superintendent of Instruction were local advocates able to pry the per pupil numbers from CCSD central office. That’s not very transparent.
There was yet another piece to the puzzle. Local principals also needed the formula for determining their rural school allotment: the extra teaching positions provided to maintain equitable programs in small rural schools. This proportional allotment was held sacrosanct by the new law. But no one at CCSD seemed to know what the formula was for calculating it. Finally, local education advocates used past year’s numbers to cobble together a formula that would meet the intent of the law. When they proposed that formula to CCSD central administrators they were told that the district had a different interpretation of the law. CCSD officials had come to a different formula; which they still have not been willing to share. That is far from transparent.
Finally, the heart of the matter with AB 469 was the clear flow of education funding to the schools. Eighty percent of general fund money was supposed to flow directly to the schools to be spent at the discretion of the principals and their School Organizational Teams (SOTs). The decision of which services would be purchased by the school from CCSD central office, and which would not, would be made at the local school level. That would have brought both transparency and autonomy to bear in the plan.
But that also has yet to happen. CCSD is scarcely sending 55 percent of the general budget funding to the schools. The rest is being categorized as direct services back to the schools. But the SOTs and principal never see that money. They have no discretion on how, where or if it is spent. Those decisions still reside with top CCSD administration. That is neither transparent nor autonomous.
To this point, it appears that the push toward CCSD reform has come around full circle and has ended right back where it started. Despite all of the efforts of a bipartisan legislature, and the top consultants in the country, the mammoth CCSD bureaucracy has merely shifted, stood up, turned around and sat right back down in the exact spot it inhabited before.
When will the people of Nevada – its parents, leaders and legislators – come to realize that a mere reorganization is not going to fix this issue? This bureaucratic monster is too big, and too deeply entrenched, to reform through reorganization. It’s impulse toward self preservation is just too strong. More drastic measures are needed to starve the bureaucracy. A wholesale dismantling and decentralization is required to bring about real transparency and meaningful autonomy. Otherwise, we will be stuck running around in circles wasting a lot of time for no results; just like the long, painful AB469 process has been.