The Carson City School District will prepare a bill draft request for the 2023 Nevada Legislature to allow smaller Nevada school districts more innovation, flexibility and reduction in workload.
Superintendent Andrew Feuling hopes to address certain “frustrations” and “challenges” in the educational system occurring from staffing shortages.
Responsibilities are mounting for districts that have fewer teachers on hand to help meet reporting obligations from the Nevada Department of Education. Also, retention issues are leading to bus driver and teacher shortages at all levels.
Feuling said he needed the board’s approval on a bill draft request before Sept. 1.
“Clearly, there have been frustrations over the years,” he said. “If there were more challenging times in some ways than right now, I’m not sure of what those are regarding staffing and concerns about employee retention, and so trying to find reasonable ways to make our work better and take away some of the fluff that doesn’t serve such a great purpose in terms of what we’re really trying to do here, I think it’s worth a great while to attempt that.”
Texas’ “districts of innovation” model, passed into law in 2015, gave traditional school districts the autonomy to adapt practices or programs to their needs. Under the law districts are exempt from adhering to uniform school start dates, minimum minutes of instruction, class sizes, student/teacher ratios, teacher certifications and contracts, except as required by federal law or as applicable to charter schools and other components.
Feuling, who learned of the program at a conference, said 1,067 Texas districts take advantage of the idea. Now, he wants to apply its central principles to Nevada.
He said it would help combat one of the issues he’s had with the Carson City School District even before he assumed the position of superintendent July 1. Elementary schools bound to maximum ratios of 23 students per teacher make it difficult to hire more teachers, and Carson City already has approximately 140 to 150 classrooms in the district. As he reported to the board Tuesday as a whole, approximately 93 percent of all Nevada classrooms filed for variances because they have gone over the class size maximum, referring to data available from the NDE during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021.
However, in a follow-up with the Nevada Appeal on Thursday, based on a “Report to the State Board of Education: Class Size Reduction Variances and Justifications” for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021 (dated Dec. 3, 2021), 317 elementary schools out of 377 reporting schools exceeded the target ratio associated with their plan, which actually meant 84 percent of elementary schools in the state experienced a variance.
But while Feuling says smaller class sizes ultimately are the goal, the short-term solution must be to ask for flexibility until the districts can bring more teachers into classrooms without breaking budgets.
“Effectively if you’re over by one (student) in a classroom, you’re not going to hire a new teacher for one kid,” Feuling said. “That’s not a sustainable response. That’s not a sustainable reaction. … And I would put our folks against any with being creative in trying to find a better way of doing things.”
CCSD’s application requests portions of existing state law to be changed, and Feuling noted there are many sections of NRS 388 and 391 (Nevada’s professional standards in education, educational personnel, and public instruction in general) that are likely to be impacted by the BDR process.
Adopting exemptions and allowing flexibility in the long run for smaller districts provides other possibilities, Feuling said. It could reduce the need to evaluate teachers less frequently for a certain number of years if they’re found to be highly effective or to diminish the hiring process to license out-of-state educators to satisfy Nevada’s requirements.
Trustee Joe Cacioppo said that, theoretically, offering up a proposal makes sense in a time where needs are increasing for more educators, but cautioned the district remains obligated not to “run amok” with the concept.
“I don’t know what the answer is … but we want to make sure it doesn’t sacrifice our ability to educate students to the best of our ability,” he said.
District Attorney Ryan Russell advised the board the BDR helps to recognize a broad problem in the state’s education system that lawmakers should be aware of.
“(This item) is the identification of a problem that needs a legislative address or redress and it’s basically alerting the (Legislative Counsel Bureau) that there is an extraordinary circumstance and it is becoming less extraordinary,” Russell said.
Feuling credited former CCSD Superintendent Mary Pierczynski for her legislative knowledge in getting the early document filed. The board now has time to determine the specifics; BDRs must be pre-filed to the Legislative Counsel Bureau on or before Nov. 16 or will be considered withdrawn.
The motion to file Tuesday passed 6-0 with Trustee Mike Walker absent.