Nevada–County Question 2 and Henderson Question 1 both ask voters to approve property tax increases above the property tax cap. Both include language stating that funds could be used for construction as well as for the touted repairs and operations. Both estimate costs to individual taxpayers using a hypothetical new home with a price of $100,000 which is not a realistic average for Henderson homeowners. Both would raise the cost of owning a home at a time when we lead the nation in unemployment and foreclosures.
In Clark County Question 2, taxpayers are asked to pay more for school maintenance, saying that there are needed repairs such as a leaking roof, even though the school district gave away $5 million of the money it already took from taxpayers to help build the Smith Center, an arts center for adults in downtown Las Vegas which puts on plays and other shows, which someone at the school district decided was more important than any of the maintenance taxpayers are now being asked to pay more for. Perhaps they thought Las Vegas didn’t have enough shows, and we needed some more at taxpayer expense, despite all the “needs” they now come to us for hat in hand. This is just plain mismanagement. If there were unmet maintenance needs, they should not have given their—OUR—money away.
The Clark County School District has spent $1.25 billion on renovations in the past 14 years. The school district went to year-round schools for a while, then stopped when enrollment decreased. If they went back to a year-round school schedule, it would instantly have 20% more seats available in local schools. The issue of School District waste of funds is larger than just the capital building and improvement funds, though.
Outside of the capital funds, fully half of the school district’s $3.3 billion annual budget goes toward administration. It used to be that the only administrator of a school was the principal, and it was not a full-time administration job; principal used to mean “principal teacher” and most of his time was spent in the classroom. We can get back to a system in which the principal, teachers, and parents operate a school independently of a massive, bloated bureaucracy that requires teachers to do arcane and burdensome paperwork to get anything done. Some schools in our community are already doing it. They are called empowerment schools. Empowerment schools spend less per student and have better results.
Besides empowerment schools, other school options include charter schools, online schools, and private schools. We could have better graduation rates and test scores if we decoupled geography from opportunity. The system whereby schools are funded by property taxes and students are only allowed to go to school where their parents live perpetuates inequality by making sure the children of the poor go to poor schools and the children of the rich go to rich schools. It is time for a completely different funding system in which the money follows the child. Increasing property taxes will only reinforce the failing old system.
The Clark County School District spent $14.5 million on a new headquarters at a time when our cities are full of empty commercial buildings that have been vacant for years. Vacant storefronts spread blight, and filling empty buildings can revitalize a whole community. I have seen that effect when I was the founding Chairman of City Lights Artists’ Co-op. Through a deal with the Henderson Redevelopment Agency, we rented a gallery space in city-owned property on Water Street which had been vacant for decades, for a nominal rent. Having an art gallery there brought in people, and people brought in other businesses, and before long the whole previously vacant street was full of businesses. The gallery was so successful at revitalizing the area that the city found a full price paying renter for our space and the gallery moved to a side street. The school district headquarters, the new proposed air and space museum, any new libraries that we might need in the future, any local arts organizations or nonprofit agencies that need to expand could all fill empty buildings, especially empty commercial property, and help our community and our local businesses thrive. It is time to stop the local government building spree that keeps building more parks, making ‘improvements’ to parks that weren’t broken, building more libraries when we can’t fill the ones we have with books, building a new music and events complex in one part of the city and then largely abandoning it and building an entirely new, new events complex in another part of the city, and so forth. This building spree was going on long before the Great Recession and immediately following Not-So-Great Depression, and of course projects that had been started already had to be completed during the recession, but the depression has been going on for years now and it’s time to stop thinking that everything local government wants requires new capital construction. We would do better to better utilize the resources we already have.
One of those resources is empty buildings we could fill. Another resource is experienced teachers. The Clark County School District has a hiring policy that excludes some of the best qualified, most experienced teachers from other states, from private schools and from colleges and universities. My good friend Ed Klapproth is a professor at College of Southern Nevada. He has a Master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language and has taught high school English as Second Language overseas. The Clark County School District has a rule that says he’s not qualified because his degree is not in Education. Ed is running for State Board of Education, and that is his issue. When my mother retired from being a high school English and Debate teacher at Sonoma Valley High School in California and moved here to Nevada at age 64, she thought about teaching in a local school here for a year until she turned 65 and qualified for Medicare, so that she would not have to go a year without health insurance. She has a Master’s Degree in English from the University of the Pacific and decades of teaching experience. The Clark County School District said she’s not qualified because her degree isn’t in Education. They told her if she wanted to teach here she would have to go back to school first. Mom said forget it. Instead, during her first year in Nevada, she periodically flew to Sacramento, California to grade tests. Nevada lost out on her vast experience. This is an example of how the Clark County School District squanders the local resources that could have made it great.
Giving them more funds to mismanage won’t cure mismanagement. Let’s stop the cycle of administrators processing paperwork to get more tax money to pay for administrators to process more paperwork to get more tax money, etc. The solutions are empowerment schools, school choice, and innovative alternatives like online schools, charter schools, home school resources, and trade and technical schools.
Several of my friends are struggling to stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. Adding hundreds of dollars to their burden could make the difference between them keeping their homes or losing them. Even one person who loses their home to pay for things that could be paid for just by having less waste is one too many.