August 28, 2008

School District May Receive $13 Million Grant

By James Haug



The Clark County School District may receive a $13 million donation for empowerment schools with strings attached: To get the money, all district schools would eventually have to convert to the empowerment philosophy of giving school staff more freedom to make their own decisions.

District Superintendent Walt Rulffes and Gov. Jim Gibbons are scheduled to discuss the donation from the Lincy Foundation at a Wednesday morning news conference, according to a press release from the Council for a Better Nevada.

The press release also states the "$13 million investment" would provide funding to the 14 empowerment schools in Clark County, which amounts to $600 per student over three years.

The district also would get $500,000 to develop changes in administration to support the management of the new empowerment system. The district would have to submit a plan to convert all 345 schools to the new empowerment model by December.

The empowerment philosophy is a "bottom up" rather than "top down" style of administration that gives principals more say in deciding educational programs and spending school funds.

Rulffes and Maureen Peckman of the Council for a Better Nevada declined to comment about the donation from the Lincy Foundation, the charitable foundation of MGM Mirage majority shareholder Kirk Kerkorian.

Since 2006, the district has been slowly building up its empowerment schools, but it lacked funding for six new empowerment schools named this school year because of the state's budget crisis. The newly designated schools for 2008-09 are: Bonner, McCall and Kelly elementary schools; Keller Middle School; and Cheyenne and Moapa Valley high schools.

Gibbons had originally requested $10 million for 29 new empowerment schools statewide for the new school year. The proposal was shelved because of funding shortfalls.

Rulffes has been moving newly designated "empowerment schools" into his own "Superintendent's region," leading some to wonder if the current system of providing regional superintendents for different geographic areas of Clark County is about to be restructured.

Critics also have questioned the validity of the empowerment approach. For example, Warren Elementary School, an empowerment school since 2006, has failed to meet the federal standards of the No Child Left Behind Act for the past four years.

Contact reporter James Haug at [email protected] or 702- 799-2922.

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