LAS VEGAS — The 42 schools that would receive dedicated capital funds if Clark County voters approved Question 2, a $669 million property-tax increase pushed by the Clark County School District, have already received more than $470 million from previous school bond campaigns, according to a Nevada Journal analysis of data from the Clark County School District. Additionally, these schools received more than $20 million for capital projects from the federal stimulus.
Even the number of schools are subject to change, however, as CCSD officials conceded last week that capital projects “will be added, deleted or modified as necessary,” potentially adding or subtracting numerous schools from the total.
In the 1990s, CCSD conducted three successful bond campaigns, which generated more than $6.1 billion. The 1994 bond raised $605 million; the 1996 bond raised $643 million; and the 1998 bond raised $4.9 billion.
While some of this money was used to build more than 100 new schools, current schools also received significant amounts of bond dollars — including the schools district officials now claim need even more funding. Those 42 schools each received an average of $11.7 million, an amount that yielded significantly more purchasing power in the past than does the same nominal sum of inflated dollars today.
For example, CCSD has already spent $27.9 million in bond funds at Eldorado High School, $18.5 million at K.O. Knudson Middle School and $9.9 million at Laura Dearing Elementary School.
Schools slated for electrical upgrades have already received 96 million bond dollars
If voters approve this tax increase, 10 schools are slated for “electrical system upgrades.” In a taxpayer-financed brochure currently being sent to parents, CCSD states that “[s]chools built before the computer era lack the basic infrastructure to allow the use of technology in the classroom.” CCSD records obtained via public-information requests show that those upgrades would cost just $9.8 million, which is less than 1.5 percent of the proposed $669 million tax increase.
Additionally, Nevada Journal’s analysis reveals that CCSD has already spent more than $96 million from past bonds at those schools. This includes B. Mahlon Brown Middle School, which has already received $14.1 million in bond money but would get an additional $1.1 million for electrical work. Past bond spending included $1.5 million for planning, design and administration, $1.3 million for furniture and equipment and a $3.1 million classroom addition.
Despite taking in $10.5 million from past bonds, district officials say Red Rock Elementary School needs $700,000 for electrical work. With previous bond monies, CCSD spent $1.7 million on planning, design and administration and more than $350,000 for asphalt work. J. D. Smith Middle School, built in 1952, is listed for a $2.1 million electrical upgrade even though it has already received $10.9 million in total funds, including more than $300,000 in electrical repairs from the 1994 plan. It has also received more than $1 million for classroom upgrades and spent $1.2 million for planning, design and administration.
Projects change without warning
Nevada Journal previously reported that Grant Sawyer Middle School, a mere 19 years old, received $10 million in HVAC repairs four years ago and was listed for another $8.8 million HVAC replacement. Last week, however, CCSD said Grant Sawyer was “bumped” to use 1998 bond-program funds as of Aug. 1, 2012, and that other schools on the original list, such as Beckley, McWilliams and Culley elementary schools, were only listed due to “clerical error.”
Despite the changing lists, Superintendent Dwight Jones recently told the Las Vegas Sun that “We made the [projects] list public so that folks absolutely know what projects will happen for sure.”
That statement conflicts with admissions the district made to various governmental approving bodies when it acknowledged the “fluid” character of all the projects it has been listing, calling them a “list of anticipated projects [describing] the specific projects to be completed by the proposed pay-as-you-go financing initiative…” (Emphasis added.)
CCSD has also written that “[p]rojects will be added, deleted or modified as necessary to meet enrollment and changing program needs within the District in ‘revisions’ to the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).”
Requests to the district seeking costs for new projects on the updated list, such as permanent classrooms and a new gymnasium for Sandy Valley middle and high schools, were not answered.
Three prices, one gym
Last week, CCSD challenged several projected costs from Nevada Journal’s previous report, specifically the $11.9 million cost for the new Moapa Valley High School gym, with CCSD lobbyist Joyce Haldeman claiming she was “not sure where [Nevada Journal] came up with the $11.9 million figure.”
The $11.9 million figure was provided by CCSD, in response to a public-records request.
Haldeman then wrote that the Moapa Valley gym is now “budgeted to cost $8 million.” Haldeman’s $8-million claim came after the Board of Trustees had already approved the gym at just $5.6 million, as the gym is now being funded with contingency funds from the 1998 bond. The same gym has now had three different price tags.
HVAC replacements or repairs not funded at school with A/C failures
Last December, Christine Ahrens, principal of Smith Middle School, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the school had leaking roofs and a faulty HVAC system that forced staff members to “buy Popsicles for the kids” in order to keep students cool.
School board Trustee Loraine Alderman called Smith’s condition “disconcerting” during the Dec. 8, 2011 school board meeting. “The needs are many, and there are no resources.”
Jeff Weiler, CCSD’s chief financial officer, bemoaned the district’s financial situation and inability to help schools like Smith.
“We’re pinching every penny, asking schools to limp along,” Weiler told the RJ.
Despite Smith’s problems and Alderman’s acknowledgement of them, Smith isn’t scheduled to receive anything for HVAC repairs.
Smith, however, did receive more than $1.2 million in HVAC repairs from the 1994 and 1998 plans, and nearly $39,000 for roof repairs from the 1996 bond.
In its response to Nevada Journal’s report, CCSD did correctly note that three schools, Chaparral High School, E.W. Griffith Elementary School and Walter Long Elementary School, which experienced HVAC problems at the beginning of the year, are scheduled to receive capital projects funding. These schools are not scheduled to receive any dedicated funding for HVAC repairs, however, just moneys for modernizations and an electrical system update.
An examination of a CCSD-provided list of the 32 schools that experienced HVAC problems at the beginning of the year reveals that not one is projected to receive any dedicated funding for HVAC repairs or replacement. Last week, Haldeman even admitted that many of the “HVAC systems that experienced outages during the first week of school did so because of maintenance issues that are not capital related…”
The district has stated that the “final cost of each project will be determined as plans are finalized, construction bids are awarded, and projects are completed.”
Thus, the ultimate identity of the different district projects, their costs, and how much bond money has already been spent at those schools, remain unknown for voters who will decide the ballot question in November.
Kyle Gillis is a reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Nevada Journal Research Karen Gray also contributed some reporting. For more in-depth reporting, visit https://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.