A Money Tree Grows in Vegas

If this memo from the future is an indicator, the school district’s budget woes are soon to end

The following post-dated document, hand-delivered to the Vegas Seven offices by a man who identified himself only as “a sworn enemy of Milton Friedman,” was apparently written by an internal committee at the Clark County School District. “Pay special attention to the section on revenue generation,” the shadowy figure whispered as he slipped out our front door, his trench coat catching on the handle for a moment. He was quickly able to free himself.

Date: Jan. 8, 2012
To: Superintendent Dwight Jones
From: Joe Schiller, Chair of the Supplemental Cost Reduction Committee
Re: Findings

In May, the Gibson Consulting Group was contracted to perform an efficiency study for the Clark County School District, with the goal of determining areas of cost savings. The resulting report, Educational and Operational Efficiency Study of the Clark County School District, included such “controversial” recommendations as outsourcing the district’s custodial and transportation departments.

This committee, charged with evaluating the report, finds that Gibson did a thorough job given the scope of its mission. However, the committee also suspects that the firm was hidebound by ideological and political boundaries it was unwilling to exceed. The committee suffered no such restraint.

This memo serves to highlight several of our cost-saving measures, and more importantly, as a guidepost to a heretofore-uncharted direction in public-school management: revenue enhancement. The committee believes it is possible for public education to be a revenue-positive endeavor, or at least less revenue-negative.

Thank you for the opportunity to go there. We await your feedback.

Cost Reductions

Disciplinary custodial work: Unfortunately, a great deal of public sympathy remains for CCSD custodial employees who would be eliminated during outsourcing. The committee therefore recommends “shifting the narrative” by shifting custodial duties to the CCSD students requiring disciplinary action. This move would eliminate the cost of a professional custodial staff, and it would also garner extensive publicity for the CCSD, perhaps even live coverage from CNN’s Anderson Cooper. A “get tough” approach to public services is in place in Maricopa County, Ariz., where Sheriff Joe Arpaio earned national notoriety for requiring prisoners to sleep in tents and wear pink underwear. The committee believes a similar approach to public education would burnish CCSD’s reputation as a tough, efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. To ensure that the district’s facilities are maintained at an acceptable level, the committee recommends creating additional punishable infractions to create a steady supply of student custodians. Potential savings: $78.6 million.

Vocational transportation: There are approximately 41,000 juniors and seniors enrolled in the CCSD. If just 50 percent of those students hold a valid driver’s license, we have a pool of some 20,000 potential bus drivers. Qualified students, selected on the basis of grades and vocational interest, would be brought up to the state’s Class B licensing standards through district-provided training (requiring the retention of a small training staff and some classroom space). This would necessitate eliminating the requirements that CCSD bus drivers be 21 years old and hold a high-school diploma, but as stated above, the committee believes that a fresh approach to budgetary problems is both necessary and overdue, and will be received by the public as such. Potential savings: $36 million.

Landscaping: The Gibson report recommends outsourcing some of the district’s landscaping needs—primarily grass cutting and gardening—to a private contractor. The committee recommends eliminating the landscaping department and replacing it with horticultural volunteers. The Anthem Gardening Club has expressed interest. Potential savings: $10.6 million.

Energy efficiency: The Gibson report lists 12 initiatives to reduce CCSD’s energy consumption, ranging from retrofitting lighting to installing photovoltaic panels, with a potential five-year cost savings of approximately $41 million. The committee agrees with these recommendations, but believes that opening windows when the weather is nice would enhance the potential savings.

Revenue enhancement

School names: CCSD policy states that schools “will be named for educators, pioneers, or prominent citizens of Clark County.” Simply adding a three-word clause to the policy creates a substantial income source for the district, as follows: “Clark County schools will be named for educators, pioneers or prominent citizens of Clark County, or corporate sponsors.” While it is beyond this committee’s scope to establish a pricing matrix, we do believe that the district’s 357 schools present an attractive marketing opportunity for corporations such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Apple.

After-school athletics: The committee recommends changing district policy to allow sponsorship of teams including logos on uniforms and playing fields, and product endorsements by student-athletes.

Captive marketing: With a change to policy on commercial activities, the district could offer its 309,000 students to on-campus advertisers and vendors as a demographically sorted audience with pre-shaped, heterogeneous consumption patterns. We anticipate push-back from consumer advocates and parent groups to this idea. Our focus-group research indicates, however, that it can be overcome by promoting on-campus marketing as “eliminating burdensome governmental regulations,” or “protecting the First Amendment.”