LAS VEGAS — In the final step needed for a significant reorganization of the Clark County School District, a panel of lawmakers voted unanimously Friday to approve regulations shifting the balance of power away from a central office and toward hundreds of individual schools.
The move triggers a radical and rapid reorganization that will put principals and school-level volunteer boards in charge of about 80 percent of the money flowing to their schools by the 2017-2018 school year. Proponents hope it will make the 357 public schools in the Las Vegas area more responsive to more than 320,000 students.
“I’ve never seen a bill that creates such dramatic change receive such unanimous support,” said Republican Sen. Michael Roberson, who chairs the commission.
An advisory committee and the Nevada State Board of Education took similar unanimous votes in the past few weeks.
The initial proposal from Republican Assemblyman David Gardner envisioned breaking up the nation’s fifth-largest school district into a handful of smaller entities. It faced stiff opposition during the legislative session in 2015 before passing on a last minute split vote.
Die-hard opponents have warmed to the idea during the 14-month process of fine-tuning the plan. Through about 20 public meetings, it evolved into an “empowerment” model that gives principals authority over hiring decisions and their operational budgets.
They can buy the services they need a la carte from the divisions of central district administration. Associate school superintendents would oversee 25 schools, and those associates answer to the district superintendent.
Proponents of the reorganization plan say it will cut out bureaucracy and argue something bold had to be done to improve the state’s bottom-ranking public school system.
Critics wonder whether the restructuring will distribute resources equitably, and are nervous about a timeline they say is short for implementing the plan. On Friday, Democratic Sen. Kelvin Atkinson asked whether there was a way lawmakers could “pump the brakes” on the reorganization if problems arise.
Roberson said lawmakers could change the law as necessary going forward, including when they reconvene in Spring 2017.
Proponents emphasized that it already had a thorough vetting.
“I can’t think of a time we’ve had more input, more legislators involved, than this bill,” said Republican Assemblyman Lynn Stewart.