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Proposal for Clark County, Nev., District Gives More Autonomy to Principals

Last year, it looked like the Clark County School District, the nation's fifth-largest school system, was going to be broken up into a number of smaller districts.

But a legislative panel tasked with carrying out Assembly Bill 394—the Clark County reorganization bill that passed in the 2015 session—approved a proposal last week that would keep the Clark County school district as one entity, but shift power from the central office to the principals who run the district's 357 schools. Under this new proposal, the principal would be responsible for the entire school operation, but that responsibility would come with greater accountability. 

This is not the final step in the reorganization process. The proposal approved on Friday will be subjected to six community hearings before it is adopted. By law, the final reorganization plan has to be approved by Jan. 1 2017.

Under the proposal, principals will have decision-making authority over budgeting, staffing, and purchasing equipment and supplies. The district will retain control over negotiations related to salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators. It will also continue to be responsible for payroll, accounting, setting measures of student outcomes, and creating policies for the school board to consider.

School funding will also be allocated on a per-pupil basis, with a weighted funding formula used for students with special needs, including low-income students, English-language learners, and students with disabilities.

Shift in Power and Accountability 

But the real power will lie with principals and the schools, which will be known as "local school precincts."

The proposal will create local school organizational teams, which will be made up of the principals and at least two teachers, at least two other school employees, and at least two parents or legal guardians of students. 

The principal will be a non-voting member of the committee. The other members will be elected, and they will not be paid for their time on the teams. The organizational committees will give assistance and advice on the development of a school operation plan, and, when principal vacancies arise, help prioritize the types of traits to look for in a new school leader, according to draft regulations.

Clark County proposed.JPG

The local school precincts will be overseen by a newly-created position of school associate superintendent, who will be in charge of no more than 25 schools. Part of the school associate superintendent's duties will include supervising and training principals and approving the principals' school operation plans.

The proposal also called for annual surveys of students, employees, parents and for the survey results to be made public.

What Happens Next?

The timeline for the proposal's implementation is quite aggressive. Michael Strembitsky, the consultant hired to develop the new model, hopes for training on the new plan to start this school year and for the plan to be in place by the 2017-18 school year. That's earlier than the legislature anticipated.  

The district had floated a counter-proposal, which would have kept the district intact, but created seven instructional precincts, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. That plan did not gain traction.  

District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky will now work with Strembitsky to move along the new proposal.

Strembitsky has said that the reorganization plan will be "cost-neutral" to the district, but there will be yet-to-be-determined transition costs, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The broad contours of the proposal approved last week are similar to strands in a plan that was put forward by the Clark County Education Association, which represents the district's teachers' union.

John Vellardita, the union's executive director, said the original attempt to break up the district started with the notion that a big bureaucratic entity such as Clark County was failing at its core mission: improving student outcomes. 

Hence, the idea to break it up made sense, he told Education Week in an interview. But as talks progressed, the conversation zeroed-in on what was the best education model for students and their parents. That led to a focus on the school site as the "primary hub" of the delivery system, he said.  

Vellardita said that if schools are given decision-making powers, adequate resources, and had teacher, student, parental, and community engagement, they improve. He also stressed that training in the new model, particularly for principals who were being asked to do more than had been required of them in the past, was critical for the plan to succeed.

The union's proposal had included providing a stipend for parents serving on the school organizational committee as a recognition of how challenging it can be for some in urban areas to take time off from their jobs to serve.

At a June hearing, some parents had expressed concerns about the reorganization's impact on special-needs children, including students with disabilities and English-language learners, and wanted more assurances from the committee.

Principals will have to be trained in budgeting and other areas. While the proposal emphasizes the need for training for things to run smoothly, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that two principals testified at the hearing on Friday that while the success of the plan rested on their profession, principals were not part of the process. (A principal was part of the reorganization's Technical Advisory Committee, the paper reported.)

Image source: Proposed reorganization plan for the Clark County School District courtesy of the June 16, 2016 meeting of the Advisory Committee to Develop a Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District.

Related stories:

Nevada Moves to Carve Up Fast-Growing District

Nevada Bill Could Break Up Clark County, Nev., District Into Smaller Ones

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