Viva Las Vegas!: Student-Based Budgeting for Clark County
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Viva Las Vegas!: Student-Based Budgeting for Clark County

The 5th largest school system in the nation has just passed a proposal to give local school officials greater autonomy. In hopes of improving student outcomes, the Clark County School District (CCSD) of Nevada is looking to grant increased decision making authority to its principals and teachers. This increase of power is a great step towards more local control, but does not go far enough to guarantee that those closest to the students can do what’s best for them. CCSD, made up of 394 schools, needs 6 community hearings before the proposal is officially adopted and approved.

Under the plan, principals will have the new autonomy to purchase equipment, services and supplies, select staff members, and create a budget; but there is a catch. The overall budget plan will have to be presented to a public school meeting, and then submitted to the local superintendent for approval. The superintendent will be hired and assigned to each school to oversee operations and budgets. Although the local principals will have more power, that power will still be dictated by the control of the school district through these superintendents.

The new independence for principals will require some new training, and they won’t be the only ones calling the shots. Teachers, staff members and parents will make up a local school’s organizational team, alongside the principal, to make budgeting decisions. Minus the principal, each member of the team would be elected to this body to represent different stakeholders for students and their needs. If a school does not have a principal, the committee will be tasked to create a list of desirable traits for their school’s next leader and submit it to the superintendent, which is another way that boosts the voices of local school officials.

Despite the new local controls in the plan, there’s a lot that doesn’t change. There will be no change regarding the control of salaries and benefits of school employees, payroll, and accounting for each school. These things will all remain under the centralized authority of the overarching school district, and local schools will remain to have ultimately no say in these issues. This plan instead allows for increased budget planning at the local level of principals and teachers. However, the final decision on these matters still remain at the approval of the school district or superintendent.

The funding of each school precinct, under this new framework, will be systematically better because the amount each school receives will be based on the number of enrolled students. A school’s allocated funding amount takes into account every pupil, and will include additional weighted funds for students who are low-income, English Language Learners or have a disability. This guarantees that the money a school receives will effectively be for each student, based on their individual needs. Under this model, equity is increased, and transparency of where funding is going will be clear. The new plan is also reported to be cost neutral.

An upside of this policy is that students, school employees and parents will be encouraged to participate in an annual public survey to gather feedback about the new school system as well as educator quality. This information will be posted online as public information, so all parties can understand the condition of their institution.

Principals and teachers will see a growth in decision making power if this proposal is adopted. Yet, most of these decisions will still have to go through a process of approval from the board of education, which adds additional unnecessary bureaucracy and potential conflicts of interest. In the long run, the transparent surveys will hopefully be a good indication if this new plan does go far enough to give autonomy to respective schools. The plan should introduce some much-needed transparency in how school capital is allocated, and will account for students and their needs better than under the status quo. Despite the plan’s room for improvement, Clark County students will hopefully reap the benefits of more decentralized decision-making in the near future.