It took only a few minutes Wednesday for the subject of equity to come before a legislative committee studying university and community college funding in Nevada.
The committee is charged with developing formulas to fairly handle growth, technology needs and other money issues. But Southern Nevada campus officials discovered Wednesday that despite all the debate about "equity" during the 1999 Legislature, starting salaries for University of Nevada, Las Vegas faculty are still between $3,500 and $5,000 less than those at University of Nevada, Reno.
But Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, served notice that officials had better not count on additional state money for higher education to erase any inequities.
"This study is not intended to be a method to increase funding for the higher education system at the expense of other needs including K-12," he said.
That said, southern campus officials and regents made it clear they intend to keep the equity issue in front of the committee charged with fixing those funding formulas. Those formulas determine nearly all the campus budgets each legislative session.
Acting Chancellor Tom Anderes said the campuses and the Board of Regents acknowledged that, with more longtime, full professors, Reno would continue to have a higher average salary. They recommended one pay rate for new hires at the two university campuses. He said when the budget was finalized, each campus was funded instead at 90 percent of its individual campus salary average. As a result, the budget contains more for each new hire in Reno than in Las Vegas.
Regent Steve Sisolak suggested that would let Reno take the best candidates away from Las Vegas. And Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, a professor at UNLV, said if they start at higher pay, each percentage raise will give them more and the inequity between the campuses "will just multiply."
Raggio said part of the UNR and UNLV pay difference is caused by management decisions made by campus officials, not by legislators. He said UNLV officials decided several years ago to use some pay raise money for other purposes.
"We could equalize everything and a month later it would be unequal again," he said. "Because of things the different campuses did, it will never stay equal."
He said the equity study done at the demand of southern regents including Sisolak shows that, in different areas, all campuses are owed equity funding increases.
He said that's because of decisions each campus has made and that, when one campus cuts one budget to meet a need elsewhere, that doesn't mean the state should automatically make up the difference.
Sisolak said, after the meeting, that could present problems for southern campus officials.
"Unless you increase the size of the pie, which there is not a lot of appetite to do, there's got to be a reallocation of funds," he said. "Senator Raggio has made it pretty clear there isn't going to be a much bigger pie."
The committee is charged with reviewing and adjusting formulas that set the budget and number of faculty each university and community college campus, the number of support personnel for those faculty, operating budgets, student services from financial aid to counseling and minority services, technology, operation and maintenance.
The existing formulas were approved in 1987 when there were more than 22,000 students in the university system. Now that number is about 45,000 and almost all of the growth has been at UNLV, which has doubled, and Community College of Southern Nevada, where enrollment has more than tripled.
The panel meets again at the end of November to hire a consultant and lay out its plan to produce recommendations for the 2001 legislature.