In hearing and ads, union seeks school spending accountability, possible CCSD receivership
The Clark County Education Association (CCEA) is calling for the Clark County School District (CCSD) to show improvement in student performance within one year or be put in receivership where a court-appointed agent would take over control.
Union representatives said they are concerned after Gov. Joe Lombardo proposed a historic $2 billion dollar increase in money going to K-12 schools, because CCSD has an “ungodly” amount of leftover money sitting in bank accounts, primarily at low-income schools, while facing low proficiency scores in math and reading and high teacher vacancy rates.
“It's not on us to be here presenting the type of programs that the state should adopt … to improve student outcomes,” John Vellardita, executive director of CCEA, said Monday at a Senate Education Committee hearing when lawmakers asked for suggestions for addressing critical problems in the public education system. “This is the responsibility of school districts.”
Vellardita said if CCSD doesn't have a plan in place before the school year starts, lawmakers should give the district one year to show improvements. If CCSD fails to make those improvements, he said the district should be placed under receivership.
CCSD Chief Communications Officer Tod Story countered by saying in a statement that the union has “repeatedly refused to work with us to focus District and school resources to support students with the greatest need” and they welcome the union’s participation.
“To date, only the administrators and support professionals are engaging with us,” Story said. “We will continue to advocate for optimal funding for education so that every student can achieve better outcomes.”
The friction between the union and school district comes as the union launches a projected six-figure digital advertising campaign over the next four to six weeks highlighting the historic investment in education proposed by Lombardo and calling for school districts to show how they’re going to deliver results before the funding arrives.
Here's the full advertisement:
In an interview with The Nevada Independent on Monday afternoon, Vellardita said he was “alarmed” when superintendents did not give lawmakers a specific message around how the extra money, which amounts to about $2,000 more per pupil or an increase of more than 20 percent, was going to be used.
“There's no reason that the school districts can’t come up with plans now before the school year starts as to how they're going to use it around programs to improve outcomes,” Vellardita said. “So that's why we're moving a conversation with legislative leadership and the governor's office and at the same time trying to bring public awareness.”
He added that the union’s campaign is aimed at getting some guardrails put in place by the Legislature during the legislative session. The video advertisement will be running across the state on various social media and video platforms starting this week.
The Washoe County School District discussed in broad strokes during a board meeting last Tuesday how the proposed K-12 education funding increase would affect its budget, and general plans for the additional dollars it might receive if the increase is approved with more budget planning meetings to come. The topic hasn’t been an agenda item for CCSD’s school board meetings since Lombardo delivered his Jan. 23 State of the State address.
The National Education Association of Southern Nevada (NEA-SN) said in a statement to The Nevada Independent that while it supports district accountability, it opposes the way CCEA wants to go about it.
“By using improved student outcomes as the determination for receivership, you're effectively forcing schools to focus on the tests,” said NEA-SN President Vicki Kreidel. “And any educator will tell you testing focused schools lose hours of valuable authentic teaching to test prep. This practice adds to the already high stress job that classroom teachers have now.”
Instead, Kreidel said she would like to see a focus on the district’s recruitment and retention efforts.
According to Nevada Department of Education data from the 2021-2022 school year, nearly 80 percent of high schoolers at CCSD are not proficient in mathematics, more than half are not proficient in language arts across all school levels and just 21 percent of fourth graders in Nevada are proficient in reading.
Those results come even after CCSD received $1.2 billion in pandemic aid from the federal government, although many blame the mental and cultural effects of COVID-19 and the move to distance learning for the drop in academic performance.
Leaders of the union said during the committee meeting on Monday that they blame poor performance on a lack of accountability at CCSD and a “unique” school district structure that in 2017 gave principals and school organizational teams authority over school budgets, hiring and education plans.
They argue that the reorganization contributed to outcomes such as a projected accumulation of $270 million dollars in unused funds, or carryover dollars, largely in the bank accounts of schools with the lowest proficiency rates.
“We believe that we need guardrails to ensure carryover dollars are used for instruction in the year that they were carried over,” Francesca Petrucci, a field representative for CCEA, said at the hearing as she read off a list of recommendations from the group.
To improve the educational system, CCEA is recommending that state leaders ensure a teacher hiring pipeline exists through teacher academies at high schools, increase standards, salaries, and benefits, and secure wrap-around services early on in elementary and professional development for at-risk kids.