District reorganization efforts begin

In the two weeks since AB394’s Plan to Reorganize the Clark County School District unanimously passed its final round of approvals, the school district has been busy assembling all the regulatory bits and pieces together to make this new-fangled education engine start up and run smoothly.

The Plan, aka the “reorg”, is broken down into digestible, bite-size pieces for us in this detailed presentation by CCSD. This is as comprehensive as it gets at this point for anyone looking for answers to their questions about the reorg process, its goals, structure, philosophy, timeline, meaning of life, etc. You name it, it’s in here.

Briefly, Assembly Bill 394 was passed in the closing moments of the 2015 Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval last June. It was originally born out of the desire to make CCSD, the nation’s fifth-largest school district, more manageable and responsive to individual school needs, to improve district efficiency, and to increase student achievement. AB394 made its way through two legislative advisory committees, the State Board of Education, and the Legislative Commission before The Plan’s recommendations and regulations were approved this Sept. 9.

Along the way, many ideas were presented to the advisory committees on how best to accomplish this task. The ideas metamorphosized from a true break up of the district, to a decentralized plan, then the empowerment model from 2007 was reintroduced, and finally the committee settled on an autonomous plan (which is really a fusion of the empowerment and autonomous models).

Consultant Michael Strembitsky, who worked with CCSD on its empowerment school model, was hired again to develop the reorg proposal. He carried over bits from a program used in Edmonton, Canada, and the empowerment school model, and retooled it to fit our needs, intentionally leaving some areas more open for interpretation, customization or personalization for individual schools as needed.

So, what the reorg does, in essence, is it flips the current “top-down” business model of decision making and spending on its head. By August 2017 — a full year ahead of the original bill’s schedule — CCSD’s central office will no longer be the epicenter of the educational world in Clark County. In this “bottom-up,” autonomous model, each of the 357 schools function as its own school precinct to encourage more “site-based decision making,” more parental and community involvement, and less dependence on a central office.

While some aspects of running a school will remain with the District, such as payroll, transportation, food services, capital projects, and human resources, etc. due to scale and scope, the majority of the day-to-day functions of a school will be handled at the school level. Each principal will report to a School Assistant Superintendent, but the site-based decision making as a whole will be done in cooperation with a School Organizational Team.

As you can see from the graph above, the School Organizational Team, or SOT, is comprised of parents, along with the principal, several teachers and support staff. There are also optional spots for a community representative and a student representative. The SOT’s role is to support the principal and be more involved in the decisions directly affecting that school, such as budgets, staffing and instructional priorities. The SOTs will need to be formed before budgets are distributed to schools on Jan. 15, to get the reorg ball rolling for implementation across the county by next August.

The principals, teachers and support staff will receive training for the SOT from the District. The parents, who make up 50 percent of the School Organizational Team, will also require training, however no decisions have been made as to how parent training will happen as of yet.

The reorg is also supposed to ensure that resources follow students and their particular needs — special education, English language learners, gifted and talented education, low income students — and that as many resources as possible flow to the local school. This part of the reorg plan goes hand-in-hand with the goal that principals, teachers, support staff, and parents will have autonomy and more say in how their school’s money is spent. So far there have been no examples provided of how much money that is going to be for each school or how exactly that amount will be determined. What we do know is schools will receive 80 percent of unrestricted dollars for 2017-18 and 85 percent in 2018-19. The majority of that money would be used for salaries and benefits. What’s left remains to be seen.

One potential monkey wrench could be thrown into the funding works due to the state’s inability to fund the newly modernized weighted funding formula, created during the 2015 Legislative Session. While this is not the first time the district has had to find dollars for unfunded mandates at both state and federal levels, the current estimates in funding the weights — without even adding to base funding — would be over an additional $1 billion. HOPE will stay on top of this situationnow and into the 2017 Legislative session.

For now, what we can do is read the documents (The Plan, the regulations), be prepared for the upcoming changes, and participate in our student’s education and our collective future by running for a spot on your school’s SOT. If you know of a teacher or support staffer who is a great advocate for student achievement, encourage him or her to run for a spot on the SOT, too. The teams will meet at least once a month and will be an integral part of every CCSD school’s success.

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