by Scott Neuffer

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January 31, 2013
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Superintendent hopes for 'normal' budget, addresses reforms

Two weeks after Gov. Brian Sandoval unveiled his education budget for the 2013-15 biennium, Douglas County Superintendent of Schools Lisa Noonan expressed hope that the district's own budget would be "normal" for the first time in five years.

"We have been sort of hoping to have a year where we're not fighting backwards, where we don't have these terrible cuts," she said Wednesday. "I don't know what it (the governor's speech) means for us. With declining enrollment, I don't know dollar-wise if we will hold even or not."

On Jan. 16, Sandoval revealed a $6.5 billion general fund budget that extends a temporary tax package approved in 2011. The spending plan is $342 million, or 5 percent, more than the current budget.

Under the plan, the state's K-12 funding would rise $135 million to a total of $2.46 billion. His plan would expand all-day kindergarten from 114 schools to 160 schools statewide, implement the Teach for America program, and increase English as second language funding as well. Per-pupil funding would increase 5.9 percent over the biennium, from $5,374 this fiscal year to $5,697 by the end of fiscal year 2015.

Of course, the figures are subject to change as the proposal wends its way through the Legislature, which convenes on Monday.

"We're very excited to hear so many areas of support for K-12 in his speech," said Noonan, who attended the State of the State address. "K-12 is clearly a passion for him and something he sees as an important area of Nevada's future."

At the same time, Noonan said that she's "anxiously watching" how the figures would break down locally in the final state budget.

"We would like to see full-day kindergarten in every school in the Valley without cost to parents," she said. "There are legislators who would like to increase the amount of full-day kindergarten, but, if there are no additional funds, then what goes away? If it becomes a trade, I don't know if I'm ready to trade something else to do that."

Jacks Valley, Meneley, and Scarselli elementary schools have fully funded all-day kindergarten programs. Those funds came from a federal literacy grant the district procured last year.

"We started with our most at-risk schools by measuring the free and reduced lunch count," Noonan said.

At other sites, district officials gauged interest in a parent-paid program.

"Pinon Hills showed enough interest for one classroom of full-day kindergarten," Noonan said. "It's tuition-based. Parents pay $75 a week, and it covers the cost of a teacher for the other half of the day. But a lot of families can't afford it. And it leaves that gap between the two ends."

Any new or expanded program will require "new dollars," she said.

"One way they might approach it is through the per-pupil amount," she added.

For example, if Douglas County has 300 ESL students, and the state adds $50 to per-pupil funding for Sandoval's ESL initiative, then the district would receive an additional $15,000, assuming legislators don't exclude rural counties.

"I think there is movement toward a weighted formula," Noonan said. "Not every child costs the same amount to educate."

Looking ahead, there also are several unknown costs associated with reforms.

In the last legislative session, lawmakers required the creation and implementation of a performance-based evaluation system for educators, in which student results account for 50 percent of the score.

"The law says something has to be in place by 2014," Noonan said, pointing to future costs. "There will be a professional development component for administrators and teachers. We can't just throw a reform out there and not train or be prepared for it."

Furthermore, employee associations have to accept the new evaluations, she said.

Last month, the district's 21 administrators agreed to use a performance pay system starting next year. Noonan said raises will be available to administrators whose schools receive a four- or five-star rating under the Nevada Schools Performance Framework, which is replacing No Child Left Behind.

"It would be like a step increase," she said, "only based on performance."

Noonan hopes the state will allocate money for the new evaluations, but nonetheless is planning to earmark $20,000-$40,000 in next year's budget for administrative raises, should schools perform well.

Overall, she expressed optimism that both teachers and administrators will adapt to the changes ahead.

"These are high stakes," she said. "Anxiety levels are high."

n Noonan addressed rumors that district administrators have received exorbitant pay raises in their latest contract with the board.

She said closed session negotiations resulted in an extension of administrative contracts by two days this year, from 210 to 212 work days, and an additional two days next year.

"Specifically the days are for superintendent-directed, mandatory training," she said. "The rate of pay stays the same."

Noonan said the extra days will cost about $16,000 this year and double that next year.

She also said the new administrative contract eliminates a 20-year longevity increase, about 15 percent in pay, and drops it down to replace the 15-year step increase, which previously was 10 percent. She said the change only affects two administrators, for a total cost of about $10,000.

Geoff Dornan contributed to this story.

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The Record Courier Updated Feb 1, 2013 05:32PM Published Jan 31, 2013 06:39PM Copyright 2013 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.