Still waiting in the West

Karen Gray

For three years, the Clark County School District has been promising the West Las Vegas community new school buildings on the Charles I. West campus.

West Middle School, more commonly known as West Prep, has been home to the school district's pilot K-12 program since 2006. Since that time, the program has expanded to house approximately 400 elementary-school students in 25 portable classrooms and over 1,100 students in grades six through 12 in the original middle-school building.

As recently as a May 1 memo, school district officials have acknowledged that the portables were intended "as an interim measure to increase the overall capacity of the site…" Nevertheless, since 2006 the school district has failed to develop plans to actually remove the portables and replace them with brick and mortar classrooms.

Back then, the district commissioned a study from Welles, Pugsley Architects, LLP to establish a master plan for the West Prep K-12 campus. The firm developed three campus scenarios and building schemes for the K-12 program.

However, since that time the district has failed to place the West Prep reconstruction on its building program — although the CCSD Capital Improvement Plan has been revised twice since 2006. Each time it failed to include the West Prep project. During these three years, the school district received $1.5 billion in building bonds and $375 million in school bonds to spend on new schools and modernization of older ones. 

To now add insult to injury, the school district is telling the West Las Vegas community it must wait to receive the promised campus until voters have approved a bond initiative planned for 2010. 

"The school district has hijacked us, and now, they're holding us hostage for the next bond," says Marzette Lewis, president of Westside Action Alliance Korp Uplifting People (WAAK-UP). Lewis, a key player in establishing the original West Prep K-12 program, says it is time the district fulfilled its promises to the Westside community.

In recent months, Lewis and others from the West Las Vegas community have been bringing their concerns over unfulfilled district promises and the inequity in treatment of the West Las Vegas community before the CCSD school board meetings. 

In response, Superintendent Walt Rulffes recently planned several meetings with community members for the week of July 27. One of the meetings called for a separate, invitation-only discussion with "black" elected officials, eliciting objections from several community leaders, members and activists.

By only inviting "black" elected officials, said some advocates, much of the community is left out of the process. Also, said some, holding separate meetings divides the community and discourages cooperation.

"This is not a racial issue," says Linda Young, school board trustee for District C. "West Las Vegas is a very diverse community, and we need a diverse group of representatives to address these concerns." District C, she noted, has a 60 percent Hispanic population. To this end, school board trustee Larry Mason also indicated that he would like to attend the meeting, with members of the Hispanic community invited as well.

Rulffes' plan excluded many prominent West Las Vegas community members and leaders, including some former elected officials, from attending the July 27 meeting. Instead, he scheduled separate meetings for the rest of the community, while failing to invite school board trustee Linda Young to those meetings.

Lewis, who was invited to a separate community meeting, said, "He will not divide and conquer our community."

Assemblyman Harvey Munford, one of those invited to the July 27 elected officials' meeting, feels that many community leaders and members left off the list would have brought important perspective and insight to the discussions. 

"There needs to be a meeting, but all the elected officials need to be invited," he said. Munford was also taken aback by the district's failure to invite Young to the other community meetings.

On July 26, a meeting of 20 District C constituents — elected officials, community members and representatives of various community-based organizations — produced a request to Trustee Young that she ask Superintendent Rulffes to cancel his meetings.

For all the activity, the West Las Vegas community is not seeking anything it hasn't long been promised. That it now is demonstrating significant unity suggests that it would be not only a policy error for the school board to again pass the community over, but also a significant political mistake.

Instead, the school district should embrace this unique opportunity to fulfill its promises to West Las Vegas — and do so without any 2010 bond initiative. All it needs to do is devote some of its federal stimulus moneys to building the West Prep campus. 

To not do so at this point — to instead attempt to hold West Las Vegas hostage for a new bond — would only further damage CCSD credibility.

Karen Gray is an education researcher at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.