Superintendents take budget woes to lawmakers

School superintendents on Thursday found a more sympathetic ear for their cries that budget cuts would devastate schools.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, said a new report gives Nevada schools a D in student achievement and that it is unconscionable to cut public school budgets even a little bit in the face of that. Parnell, chairman of the Legislative Subcommittee on Education, was joined by Assemblymen Mo Denis and Harvey Munford, both Las Vegas Democrats, in objecting to the governor's decision to impose the same 4.5 percent budget reduction on public education as he has on all other state agencies.

"Why is it we're talking about cutting the very things that are succeeding," said Denis when told the most likely approach by the governor will be to cut or delay new programs including Empowerment and expanded all-day kindergarten.

Munford expressed concern the cuts would hit hardest at the poorest schools that lack other resources. He added many of those schools are in his district.

Lawmakers, however, have no control over where budget cuts are made. That is the authority of the governor.

Carson Superintendent Mary Pierczynski, who heads the superintendent's association, said the $267 million Rainy Day Fund, the "Fund for the Stabilization of State Government," should be used to cover as much of the shortfall as possible to protect education. Instead, she said, "it seems we're now trying to stabilize government on the backs of children."

Clark schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said the 4.5 percent reduction will take $96 million from the school districts but that they are being hit with another $90 million reduction in funding because enrollments came in lower than projected. He said in Clark, that is $66 million of that total.

He argued that $90 million reduction in basic support should be counted against the $96 million in cuts, leaving districts only $6 million to cut.

Parnell agreed with Rulffes.

But state budget officials have ruled that out, saying basic support is funded per pupil so lower enrollments mean fewer teachers are needed. In some counties it could result in staff reductions but Clark has a significant number of vacant positions it was unable to fill this fall.

Rulffes said that effectively cuts public education more than $180 million - "a disproportionate share."

Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault said the budget office has indicated it will take funding for new programs rather than cut basic support - a position superintendents and school finance officials said Monday they would support if cuts are inevitable. He said Empowerment, kindergarten, technology funding and several other new programs discussed Monday would cover $55 million of the cuts, leaving districts $36 million to cut out of a budget totaling more than $2.2 billion.

He said statewide, the total reduction amounts to $220 per student. With those new programs cut or delayed, he said it would be about $85 per pupil.

The governor, his budget division and department heads are in the final stages of determining exactly where and what will be cut to match a shortfall that Director of Administration Andrew Clinger has said could reach $500 million by the end of the biennium. The big shortfall is in sales tax revenues, projected at $285 million alone. But business, real estate, insurance and other taxes also are behind projections.

Clinger had hoped to get the job done this week but school superintendents all advised him they have to bring the subject to their elected school boards first and that will take several weeks.


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