Districts eye kindergarten, empowerment for budget cuts

Education officials focused their attention on new programs including all-day kindergarten and school empowerment as a way to make budget cuts saying that would protect basic support and existing programs.

"There's a lot of that money that's not yet been awarded," said Jim Wells, deputy superintendent for finance at the Department of Education. "If we take these programs off the top before we determine what has to come from the districts, we're not hurting the districts as much."

The meeting was called to clarify exactly what is available for cuts and how the budget office expects school districts to accomplish the 4.5 percent reduction.

Officials from Washoe, Clark and other districts quickly made it clear they believe reducing or eliminating new programs would be a less painful way to take $96.2 million out of K-12 budgets statewide than cutting existing programs and Director of Administration Andrew Clinger agreed.

"I think that's a good plan," he said. "Why would you cut an existing program then bring on a new program?"

Cutting the Innovation and Remediation Trust Fund, which contains money for empowerment, all-day kindergarten and remediation grant money, would cover more than half what the schools have to cut, lowering their bill from $96.2 million to about $42 million.

And Wells pointed out it would reduce the impact to basic formula spending, which is what provides the teacher in the classroom.

Lyon Superintendent Nat Lommori said the effect would not be to cancel those programs: "We would just be putting them on hold for a biennium."

"This is sounding like a good deal," said Washoe Superintendent Paul Dugan.

The group, meeting to work out how districts can meet the governor's mandated 4.5 percent general fund cut, was told by Clinger if they make that recommendation he is certain Gov. Jim Gibbons would back them.

"The governor would prefer to defer to the districts," he said.

The issue now may be timing, Mary Pierczynski, Carson district superintendent and head of the superintendents association this year, said they will have to take the issue to their various county school boards.

"This is very important and it's not something that can be turned around in a couple of days," she said in response to Clinger's statement that the governor wants to finish making decisions on the cuts this week.

Walt Rulffes, Clark superintendent, agreed saying it could take a month.

"If the governor has a timeline he wants to meet, he's better off making that decision himself," said Washoe's Dugan.

Gibbons has said before he wants agencies and departments to recommend where to cut in order to do the least damage to their programs and services.

Dugan said that a $42 million be a much easier cut to manage. Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault said there are several other programs as well to consider including the money for school technology, performance pay for teachers and career and technical education funding.

And others in attendance suggested talking to the Legislative Counsel Bureau about the Grow Net and Insight money - about $1.3 million in all - which lawmakers control.

Superintendents of Nevada's 17 school districts will meet to discuss plans to make necessary cuts Thursday.


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