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Could an audit help break up Nevada's largest school district? Not so fast

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Clark County School District/Facebook
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The Clark County School District has faced a number of challenges in recent years; the pandemic, falling test scores, violence, and an ever-growing teacher shortage.  

Now, amid mounting pressure from voters, state lawmakers are considering a proposal to audit the school district’s finances.  

According to lawmakers, the move is to make sure the state’s new pupil-centered funding formula is working as intended. However, they say it’s also an opportunity to get direct answers from the district to questions they’ve been getting from the public. And could it help facilitate the break-up of the country’s fifth-largest school district? 

April Corbin Girnus, deputy editor of The Nevada Current, sits down with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to explain. 

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee has requested legislative staff to come up with a bill to audit the district's finances over the next legislative session. 

“It's been about 20 years since the last audit. And in the last 20 years, there's been a lot of changes within the school district, obviously, the biggest one, probably the funding formula that was implemented or is being implemented in the last few years,” Girnus said. “But beyond that, there's been a bunch of new programs that are very costly, but also arguably very effective. … The audit could be a way to see whether or not those are working, to make sure the money is going in the right place.”

She said frustrations with the school district are bipartisan. 

“It's hard to justify being really proud and happy of a school district where 30% of people are proficient in math, right?”

But it’s also nothing new. Poor performance is something district leaders and the public have acknowledged for decades. The latest numbers showed improvement, but that was compared to the year prior, which was half online and half in person. 

And many see the audit as a way to start the break up process.

“I think there's a certain segment of people who definitely want it to be. But I think there's a lot of realists in the state that recognize it would be very, very, very, very difficult to break up the fifth largest school district. And we've had this debate before, right?” Girnus said. 

“There's a lot of issues of equity that get involved. And it would be very tricky. There would be a lot of litigation against it. I think people know that that's very difficult. In my opinion, if it does happen, I would be shocked, just because of the amount of work that would be involved in that undertaking.”

As always, there are multiple efforts. There’s the Community Schools Initiative, which would allow certain jurisdictions, like Henderson, for example, to opt out of the school district. They have a petition circling, but need signatures. 

Girnus said if they get the amount needed, and that is certified by the Secretary of State’s office, it will appear in the 2023 Nevada Legislature.

From there, there’s 90 days for legislators to work on it. If nothing happens, if it doesn’t get a hearing, it would go to voters. 

“I think we would see people file lawsuits against it. And we would see a lot of debate on how that would happen,” she said. 

 

April Corbin Girnus; deputy editor, The Nevada Current

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.