No layoffs in tentative school budget

In lieu of last year's distressing budget cut process, the Douglas County School District has found a way to balance next year's tentative budget without cutting into programs.

"With good leadership and deliberate planning, we were able to recommend certain steps to get to the tentative budget," Chief Financial Officer Holly Luna said Thursday. "Basically, because all parties came to the table, we're going to be able to have a tentative budget, and that's huge. At the end of the day, a balanced budget without reductions to staff means no reductions to programs."

On Tuesday, Douglas County School Board members will be asked to approve a 2010-11 tentative budget and a general fund with $53.4 million in revenue, down about $1.8 million from this year. Trustees will also be asked to ratify employee agreements for the period of July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011.

Both sides, employee unions and the district, made concessions that contributed hugely to the balanced budget, said Luna.

Debbie Haskins, head secretary at Minden Elementary School and president of the Douglas County Support Staff Organization, said contract negotiations this year were "more positive than ever."

"We agreed there would be no more staff reductions than those due to declining enrollment," Haskins said Friday.

According to the agreements, still subject to board ratification, eligible employees will receive step increases in pay, based on experience and additional education; however, there will be no additional merit or cost-of-living increases.

The district has also agreed to fund a .5 percent cost increase in state retirement subsidies, but unions have agreed to decrease the monthly amount the district pays for each employee into the district's self health insurance fund. The current $662.31 monthly premium would be lowered to $575 a month per employee, with no change in benefits, Luna said.

She said the self insurance fund has an increasing ending fund balance with more revenues coming in than expenditures. She said lowering the district's monthly contributions will translate into about $775,000 in savings over the next fiscal year.

When Nevada lawmakers asked state agencies to cut nearly 7 percent from their budgets during the special session in February, they also helped out local school districts by making optional certain mandates.

For example, Luna said part of per-pupil funding was previously "fenced off" for text book allocations. She said lawmakers decided in the special session that districts can waive that requirement, which frees up about $400,000 for the Douglas County School district to spend elsewhere.

Unfortunately, another big chunk of savings next year, approximately $525,000, will come from the elimination of seven teaching positions due to declining enrollment.

Luna said enrollment levels are staffed accordingly every year and that the process is not part of budget reductions, though the savings still count in the positive.

"As far as how it pans out relating to attrition or retirement, we're still working on getting the number of jobs lost minimized," Luna said.

Because of the state's hold harmless provision, the district will be funded at this year's weighted enrollment of 6,211.8. However, Luna said, staffing levels are still based on next year's projected weighted enrollment of 6,035.

"We never wait for the hold harmless to drop out," Luna said. "We believe that here is the projected enrollment, and here is the staff needed for the top projected enrollment."

Luna said Douglas County is in a better position than other districts in the state, many of which, she said, have to mandate furloughs and other contract reductions.

"We've reached a mutually beneficial agreement," she said. "We got to the tentative budget without take-backs."

Luna said when everything is totaled up in this biennium cycle, the district has lost about $3 million in state funding. She said the state's per-pupil funding for next year dropped 5.8 percent, from $5,471 per student to $5,151 per student.


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